Can we use ‘ Herd immunity’ to combat COVID-19?

Published by Dr. Nadeera Nilupamali on

The approach towards “herd immunity” has become a trending discussion to fight against COVID-19. The question is can we consider it as a smart strategy to combat COVID-19?

Some  European countries  initially planned to suppress the virus gradually instead of eradicating it entirely. The idea was to build “herd immunity,” by exposing people to get mild illness to become immune.

Is it effective? Can we do that ?

Let me tell you a bit about what “herd immunity” is before you make any conclusions.

Herd immunity’ is the indirect  protection from an infectious disease that occurs when entire population is immune to that disease either through vaccination or immunity developed through previous infection. So the outcome is people who are vaccinated or immune from previous infection will act as a protective shield and safeguard unvaccinated or people who aren’t immune to the particular disease. Once the herd immunity has been established it will halt the disease spread and the disease can eventually be eliminated.

The next question comes; how many people need to be immune for herd immunity to take effect?

This depends on the contagiousness of the  disease. For mumps, you need 92% of the population to be immune, for measles it comes to 93 – 95 %  to stop the disease spread entirely.

Where do we stand applying “herd immunity,” for COVID-19?

The best way to achieve “herd immunity,” is through a vaccine, however, as of now we do not have that luxury . We can’t rely on the virus  to create an immune population by exposing them because a majority of the population needs to get infected. According to experts COVID-19 has a lower infection rate than diseases like measles, and the  “herd immunity,” should be achieved when around 60% of the population becomes immune to COVID-19.  Having said that natural herd immunity, achieved through infection is challenging to induce in COVID-19 pandemic due to the high rate of serious illness and death, and also the health systems in every county is overwhelmed well beyond their surge capacity.

So, as of now the best way forward is social distancing to avoid infection till we find a vaccine to fight against  COVID-19.


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