Is reaching herd immunity the solution to the CoVID-19 pandemic?

As of April 9th, more than 1.5 million of the world population are infected with the novel coronavirus. 5% of these cases are critical, 93,000 global deaths, and 447,000 cases recovered. These numbers might be frightening as the pandemic is still ongoing; however, with about a 3% death rate, we might be able to develop “Herd Immunity” or “Community Immunity.”

What is herd immunity?

Herd immunity refers to immunizing most of the population to protect those at risk by avoiding the spread of the virus spread of the virus. Immunized people do not get infected, and consequently, they do not spread the virus within a population.

Immunizing the population occurs by vaccination. Vaccination is introducing a weak or inactive form of the virus into the body to allow the immune system to produce antibodies; hence, a memory of the virus. Later, when the virus infects a vaccinated person, the immune system recognizes and neutralizes it before the disease develops.

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Some people can’t get vaccinated due to medical reasons or certain beliefs. Therefore, vaccinating most of the population should protect such unvaccinated individuals by blocking the spread of the virus.

Can herd immunity be reached without a vaccine?

Yes. Another way to develop immunity against a pathogen is getting infected. Similar to vaccination, when an individual gets infected, the body develops a memory for the pathogen, thus, preventing future infections with the same pathogen.

Can Herd Immunity development aid in the current pandemic?

Allowing 60% of the population to get infected with CoVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) is sufficient to reach herd immunity.

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The United Kingdom government planned to reach herd immunity in the current pandemic. Forty-seven million people in the UK will need to be infected and recovered. However, the issue isn’t that simple, CoVID-19 has a 3% fatality rate, and to infect 60% of the UK population, we’ll be looking at 100,000-250,000 deaths, maybe more.

To avoid such a large number of fatalities, spreading the virus to millions of people over a long period by social distancing should limit the number of cases and deaths.

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It is believed that developing herd immunity is the most effective way to halt CoVID-19. While some might think that this whole herd immunity strategy is unethical and that governments want to throw people under the bus, the infection with CoVID-19 is most-likely inevitable due to its rapid spread.

Therefore, exposing the younger, healthier population to the virus in order to protect our vulnerable population might not be a bad strategy, after all, considering that most deaths are above 60 years of age.

The exposure should be over a long period to avoid pressuring the healthcare systems and to allow time for the development of a vaccine.

The UK was the only European country to issue this strategy; several nations issued a full lockdown and/or strict measure to limit the spread of the virus.

However, the UK followed a looser approach to try to develop herd immunity. Not until a recent sudden increase in the CoVID-19 positive cases and deaths did the government advise social distancing and isolation in the case of the extremely vulnerable.

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Social distancing doesn’t necessarily decrease the course of development of herd immunity. Fewer people will get infected, but still, minimal background immunity will be achieved, and it will act as a shield when the lockdown is over, and the number of cases starts to spike again.

Iran might be the world’s guinea pig to test Herd Immunity to CoVID-19.

Iran isn’t taking strong actions regarding the current pandemic because a lockdown down would massively affect its economy. Therefore, Iran could be the guinea pig for testing the Herd Immunity strategy several nations are interested in implementing despite the risks in human lives.

As mentioned, returning to our normal lives to achieve herd immunity in a population would result in hundreds of thousands of deaths, and more critical cases than the health care systems can handle. However, we can’t stay in lockdown forever as the pandemic is still at its beginning, and the virus is very contagious, unlike its cousins SARS-CoV (2003 outbreak) and MERS (2012 outbreak).

There are several strategies to help us go back to our normal lives, for instance, the segregation of the elderly and any other person with chronic conditions who are susceptible to a severe course of the disease.

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Or more realistically, since the outbreak is at its early stage, we need to work smarter not harder in order to avoid another outbreak once the lockdown/partial lockdown is lifted:

1. Maintain social distancing.

It should become the new normal. Gatherings such as weddings, sports games, parties, ceremonies should be revised and monitored. Workplaces, schools, and universities must consider new arrangements regarding seatings, bathrooms, classes, meetings, etc. Whatever can be done online should be done online, such as shopping, classes, etc.; otherwise, social distancing should be the priority.

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2. Cleaning hands and surfaces should be regular. We need to practice disinfecting our hands regularly and not to touch our faces. Sanitizers should be accessible to everyone everywhere.

3. Wearing face masks when a person is ill should be popularized. It should be a costume to wear a mask when feeling any respiratory illness symptoms such as fever, cough, or runny nose. Staying at home is indeed preferable. One must feel the urge to protect others.

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4. CoVID-19 testing should always be available. Even if the lockdown is relaxed, looking for new subjects should not stop, this will allow finding new asymptomatic subjects and allow for early self-isolation.

5. All travelers should be screened.

We are patiently waiting for the vaccine, which would resolve the whole pandemic once and for all and reach herd immunity without human costs. In the next months, some cities with a high infected population will reach herd immunity sooner than others and can easily resume their lives. The worst-case scenario would be an annual coronavirus outbreak like the seasonal flu caused by the influenza virus. Such information is not yet confirmed, but we know that the virus mutates rapidly.

Stay safe

#herd_immunity #herdimmunity #covid19 #coronavirus #2020pandemic

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