WHO slams idea of using herd immunity against coronavirus

The World Health Organization has turned down the idea of using herd immunity to fight coronavirus. In the absence of a vaccine for coronavirus, herd immunity can cause destruction as people have to develop immunity by contracting the virus for a long time.

herd immunity

In the absence of a vaccine, the increasingly discussed idea of beating the novel coronavirus pandemic through achieving so-called herd immunity could be a disastrous miscalculation, a senior WHO official has warned.

“This is a really dangerous, dangerous calculation,” Michael Ryan, head of the World Health Organization’s health emergency program, said at a briefing on Monday.

“Humans are not herds,” Ryan said, warning that applying the same standards to humans “can lead to very brutal arithmetic which does not put people and life and suffering at the center of that equation.”

The term originated from veterinary medicine and initially referred to a concept focusing on the overall health of the population, with little regard to individual animals.

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The idea is based on a premise that when a large part of the population is immune to an infectious disease, it is less likely to spread to the individuals who aren’t. However, without a vaccine, that means that most people have to beat the illness to develop such immunity – and the price could be too high.

Herd immunity is only applicable to humans when scientists need to calculate how many individuals should be vaccinated for a society to reach proper herd immunity, Ryan said.

The assumption that a large portion of the global population has already been infected and had gone through a mild form of Covid-19 has been proven wrong by preliminary epidemiological studies, he added.

“The proportion of severe clinical illnesses is actually a higher proportion of all those that have been infected,” Ryan said, warning that the novel coronavirus turned out to be much more “serious” than initially thought.

The WHO official did not call out any state in particular, but his statements were seen as a dig at Sweden and other nations that had been reluctant to impose strict lockdown measures because local health experts argued that herd immunity could be achieved instead.

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The idea of herd immunity remains popular in some US media outlets, with no shortage of articles discussing the concept, and some even calling on state governments to drop all restrictions and push populations to develop natural immunity to the disease in lieu of a vaccine.

Washington remains reluctant to take up the idea, however, with President Donald Trump recently saying the country would have faced “unsustainable and unacceptable” losses had it pursued herd immunity over a lockdown. The US is currently the world’s worst Covid-19 hotspot, with over 1.3 million cases and more than 80,000 fatalities.

Can herd immunity stop coronavirus?

The problem with herd immunity and the novel coronavirus is that the world is nowhere close to having widespread resistance to COVID-19, and is still a long way from developing it. Experts estimate that from 60% to upwards of 90% of a population must have immunity to a disease for it to stop spreading.

Most countries affected by COVID-19 have not surpassed the 1% mark, including the US, which currently has the highest number of cases out of all countries.

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There are two ways to produce herd immunity against a disease: develop and administer a safe and effective vaccination, or wait for the disease to make its rounds through a population.

vaccination for SARS-CoV-2 is in the works, but it will likely be more than a year until the vaccine becomes available to the public. Without a vaccine, much of the US is currently stuck under shelter-in-place and social distancing orders, waiting for it to be developed, or for people to get the disease and recover from it to create herd immunity.

RT with additional input from GVS News Desk

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