What is Herd Immunity?

Wednesday, March 18, 2020 - 15:11

Most of the world tries to suppress the coronavirus spread through applying various methods and techniques, some countries are going it alone - trying to manage the pandemic through so-called “herd immunity”.

As it is defined, "herd immunity" means letting a large number of people catch a disease, and hence develop immunity to it, to stop the virus spreading.

If the virus keeps spreading, eventually so many people will have been infected and (if they survive) become immune that the outbreak will fizzle out on its own as the germ finds it harder and harder to find a susceptible host. This phenomenon is known as herd immunity.

But on Thursday, at a press conference, Boris Johnson seemingly revealed that the United Kingdom would adopt a different strategy.

The government would no longer try to track and trace the contacts of every suspected case, and it would test only people who are admitted to hospitals. In lieu of any major social-distancing measures, Johnson instead offered a suite of soft advice—people with symptoms should stay home; no school trips abroad; people over 70 should avoid cruises, the Atlantic reports.

The chief science adviser to the UK government, Patrick Vallance, said the country needed to “build up some kind of herd immunity so more people are immune to this disease and we reduce the transmission.”

The prime minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, struck a similar note, saying, “We can slow down the spread of the virus while at the same time building group immunity in a controlled way.”

But on Sunday, Matt Hancock, the UK secretary of state for health and social care, stressed that achieving herd immunity to Covid-19 is not a stated policy. Instead, he said that “in the coming weeks,” people over the age of 70 will be told to self-isolate.

This stands in contrast with World Health Organization guidelines, which recommend that everyone, regardless of age, practice social distancing.

Once a person has developed immunity to a virus, they probably won’t catch it again. The theory behind herd immunity is that once a lot of people develop immunity to a virus, it will eventually stop spreading to people who haven’t yet caught it.

A “herd immunity” strategy has been criticized by the World Health Organization, which said far greater action is required. Other health experts say the approach is experimental at best, and dangerous at worst.

Gelare Khademvesal


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