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SARS-CoV-2 outbreak: a message from our President

Our President, Professor Arne Akbar, has written a message of support to the membership in light of the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak.

Dear BSI member,
In light of the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak, I want to convey a message of support to our community as a whole and to let you know what actions the British Society for Immunology has taken to ensure the voice of immunologists is heard. This is a global crisis in which immunologists will play a key role, through research, patient care and public information. We’ve all individually already implemented many changes to our lives to help ‘flatten the curve’, but as a discipline we’re also looking to intensify efforts to play our part in ameliorating the outcomes of this outbreak.

As some of you may be aware, on Saturday evening, the BSI sent an urgent open letter to the Chief Medical Officer, Chief Scientific Advisor and Secretary of State for Health & Social Care regarding significant questions the immunology community had on the Government’s approach to the Coronavirus outbreak at that time. This was not a decision we took lightly but followed overwhelming feedback from our community on their concerns regarding the Government’s stated ‘herd immunity’ approach and lack of social distancing action. In this letter, we made our views clear and called for (1) more social distancing measures and (2) transparency on the models being used to predict the course of the outbreak. The immunological community is the most knowledgeable and credible on issues of herd immunity and we felt it was the BSI’s responsibility to amplify concerns from our members and other immunologists across the world. 

Overall, our letter made an important contribution to Government policy and we know that it raised awareness of the concerns of immunologists at the highest levels. In fact, just three hours after our letter was sent, Matt Hancock published an Op-Ed in the Sunday Telegraph stating that herd immunity was not the Government’s policy and outlining further social distancing steps to be implemented for at risk groups. He reemphasised both these points on political tv shows the next morning, in addition to saying he welcomed scrutiny from the scientific community and was willing to engage with all experts groups who could help with the response. The Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) also announced that they would publish the modelling data used for the scientific community to scrutinise – some of these data are now in the public domain. We have obviously now also seen the introduction of more intense social distancing and isolation measures. 

In publishing this letter, it was also key that the immunology community, as individuals, spoke up to support our position – and you did not let us down! The amount of support that we have since received from members and the wider scientific community has been overwhelming. Thank you to everyone who took to social media over the weekend to amplify our message – you made a huge difference in ensuring that decision-makers were aware of the immunology community’s thoughts. We also received a raft of media coverage on our actions which again helped amplify the message - Financial TimesThe Guardian, The Times, Sky News, The IndependentThe AtlanticDaily Telegraph, Channel 4 News and Metro to name but a few. We also circulated a follow up statement after the Government’s Monday announcement on new social distance measures. 

Overall, I hope you will agree that our letter has had a significant impact in shaping government policy and in ensuring the voice of immunologists is heard. It is such an honour to be working with you all as members of the BSI – it is only through all of you, our BSI family, that we can have this level of influence and what an important time it was to stick our head above the parapet! We will continue to carefully monitor developments and represent the views of the immunology community on this topic, and others. 

As immunologists, we are acutely aware of the implications that the emergence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus has for global public health. Indeed, I know many of you are on the front line of contributing to efforts including treating patients and conducting research into potential vaccines, therapeutics, diagnostics and epidemiology. Still more immunologists have volunteered their time to sit on grant panels or talk to the media. It makes me immensely proud to see how our community has stepped up and pulled together in these uncertain times. We know many immunologists want to volunteer their services to the NHS to assist with essential lab diagnostic tests and the BSI has already written to government to highlight this resource. 

In the coming months, we are sure to see some more testing times ahead as the number of COVID-19 cases increase. As your Society, the BSI will be by your side in your efforts which is why, over the next weeks, we will be rolling out new initiatives to support you. We would also welcome your thoughts on what actions you would like to see from us – please email me at

Finally, I would like to extend a special thank you to Doug, Jennie and the whole BSI staff team who have done a tremendous job in coordinating all our responses to the media, to government and to you, our members. They are delivering above and beyond their normal activity. Doug and the Senior Management Team have secured the ongoing activity of his staff enabling them to work and communicate from home. I would like to thank you all on behalf of all our members. Keep up the good work in these difficult times.

With best wishes
Professor Arne Akbar
President, British Society for Immunology


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