Science Says Herd Immunity Won’t Work for COVID-19
Due to the outbreak of COVID-19, more than 223,000 U.S. residents have died. Even worse, there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. Nearly all medical experts suggest there are several months of the pandemic on the horizon. Still, there are large swaths of U.S. residents who suggest the pandemic is nothing to be concerned about. They believe that once enough of the population has been immunized, herd immunity will take care of the rest. These people are wrong.
What Is Herd Immunity?
For those who haven’t heard the expression, “herd immunity” refers to a kind of natural elimination of viruses and bacteria once enough of a given population receive a vaccination or encounter and recover from the disease.
The idea is this: when a virus like COVID-19 enters an un-immunized ecosystem, it can run rampant, infecting everyone with whom it comes into contact. When just a handful of those people are immunized, the disease’s ability to move through the population is compromised but still impactful. When enough members of the community are immunized, the virus so rarely comes into contact with a susceptible host, it is eradicated.
What’s This Got to Do With COVID-19?
In the past, a combination of vaccinations and disease recovery has squashed terrible diseases like polio and smallpox. It’s also the reason that yearly instances of the flu haven’t overwhelmed US hospitals. Herd immunity is no doubt a critical tool for any society. That’s why some medical practitioners suggest it should be forced in the case of COVID-19.
Around the world, more than 30,000 medical professionals appeared to come together to sign The Great Barrington Declaration. The missive suggests that those members of the population who would be hypersensitive to the impact of COVID-19 (small children, the immune-compromised and the elderly) should remain protected with current precautions like masks and social distancing. Everyone else, however, should return to daily life as usual with the goal of infecting and subsequently immunizing the public.
It might sound like a good idea (especially to those who tire of masks and confinement), but COVID-19 isn’t a disease like any other.
The Flaws in the GBD
Though The Great Barrington Declaration has gained steam on a political level, medical experts have widely derided it. The number of signatures on the GBD is impressive, but there is scrutiny regarding the medical integrity and, indeed, the identity of the signers. For example, one doctor who signed the GBD signed as “Dr. Bananas.”
Beyond the validity of the signatures, medical professionals are crying foul at the supposed science supporting the GBD.
The level required for a given community to reach herd immunity varies from disease to disease. In that respect, Mayo Clinic posits this question in its article regarding Herd immunity and COVID-19: “What percentage of a community needs to be immune in order to achieve herd immunity?”
The answer, according to a growing number of physicians, is exceptionally high, about 200 million people. Experts suggest that the sudden exposure of the population to COVID-19 could swamp hospitals and lead to countless deaths from other, untreated diseases. Add to that sum the expected 1.4 million people who might end up dead before the US achieves herd immunity.
That’s not the only issue with herd immunity and COVID-19, either.
The Problem With Vaccines
Let’s start here: vaccines are awesome. They have helped society overcome numerous diseases throughout history and improved the quality of life for billions of people. When a scientifically-backed vaccine is released, it will be no small cause for relief. That said, vaccines also have drawbacks. Sometimes they wear down, and people need to be revaccinated. Some people refuse to believe in their efficacy, too, which makes them problematic as a comprehensive solution.
The GBD also suggests having enough people get the disease and recover will prove beneficial for herd immunity. Besides the additional million people COVID-19 could kill (along with untold other deaths), if we try for herd immunity, there’s another problem. There is no evidence to suggest that once you’ve been infected with coronavirus, you’re immune to it in the future. That means the GBD could see millions of coronavirus infections without the ability to even reach herd immunity!
The only way to control coronavirus is to slow the transmission of the disease until it’s strangled for hosts. That means following the steps suggested by organizations like the CDC. Wear masks. Stay home. Keep your distance. Be patient. You can do it.