With a continuous increase in confirmed coronavirus cases and the absence of any effective vaccine to cure it, there is a lot of ongoing discussion about herd immunity and COVID 19. Governments and experts are searching for the solutions to deal with the prevailing situation and herd immunity is among the potential solutions, just like the coronavirus lockdown is considered as a potential solution.
There are a lot of questions and queries regarding herd immunity and COVID for all the good reasons. Some of the questions are, what is herd immunity, how effective it is, will it end the need for coronavirus lockdown and social distancing and a load of other questions. Therefore, we decided to discuss questions about herd immunity here to remove your confusion regarding herd immunity.
Herd immunity is a phenomenon where the majority of the people in a particular community or a country have evolved immunity to a specific infectious disease such that the chances of additional community transmission are almost eliminated or minimized.
Requirements for Herd Immunity
In a herd immunity strategy, a certain ratio of a community population must be exposed to the concerned disease. For our case, this disease is Covid-19 that we are talking about here. This exposure is necessary to develop immunity against the disease in the form of antibodies also called herd immunity antibodies.
The development of antibodies will not only safeguard that person from reinfection for a significant time period but also protect him from transmitting that disease to other people. This happens because their immune system is now strong enough to kill the virus or bacteria that is causing the disease when it enters their body again.
2- What Are Some of the Herd Immunity Benefits?
A lot of people are talking about herd immunity and its importance to protect humanity against the Covid-19. To understand the role of herd immunity better, we first need to understand how herd immunity works. The purpose of the herd immunity is to produce antibodies in a certain portion of a community’s population to fight against certain diseases either through vaccination or natural exposure. This way, people that have developed antibodies will not only protect themselves but also other community members against the virus.
Herd Immunity Benefits
Herd immunity enables people to protect themselves from a certain disease.
It also enables people to less spread the virus in their community.
Overall, herd immunity is an effective way to deal with pandemics.
3-How Many People Need to Develop Herd Immunity Antibodies to Achieve Herd Immunity?
The next question on herd immunity is how many people in a community should have the antibodies to achieve herd immunity against Covid-19. If we take the expert opinion regarding Covid-19, almost 60-70% human population needs to develop antibodies to achieve herd immunity against the Coronavirus.
Herd Immunity Threshold
This estimate of 60-70% human population needs to develop antibodies to achieve herd immunity against Covid-19 is based on herd immunity threshold formula given below:
Herd immunity threshold = 1 – 1/R0
Here R0 (R-zero) means a basic reproduction number which represents the average number of people that one infected person can infect or exposes to the disease. This number is significantly higher in the case of Coronavirus compared to seasonal flu. For seasonal flu, this number is nearly 1.3 and for coronavirus, it is 2 and even higher. This means this coronavirus is a highly contagious disease.
Picture 2: Herd immunity is hard to achieve (Picture credit: Unsplash.com)
4-How Long It Takes to Achieve Herd Immunity Against the Coronavirus?
The answer to this question is a harsh reality. Developing herd immunity against Coronavirus naturally will take a long time and required patience. If we rely on the opinion of experts, herd immunity is impossible without an effective vaccine. Herd immunity and vaccines have strong relation described below.
Herd Immunity Is Difficult to Achieve
As described earlier, to produce herd immunity against Coronavirus 60-70% of the population need to have antibodies. This is a huge portion of the population and exposing this much popular is dangerous too. To understand it, total population in the USA which is exposed to Coronavirus is around 5%, similarly, in Spain and other countries, it is in a single digit. With only this number of infections, the health system is already crumbling in different countries, imagine what will happen when this number will touch 50% let alone 70%.
This makes it clear that achieving herd immunity without an effective vaccine is a dangerous dream. We will achieve herd immunity only after the discovery of a workable vaccine.
5-Is It Possible to Build Herd Immunity by Arranging a COVID Party?
Since the beginning of Covid-19, a lot of vague ideas popping out to defeat it or build herd immunity. Some ideas are bad enough to throw them out in the trash can. One of the bad ideas to develop herd immunity is to arrange a COVID party. The dangers of such a move are given below.
Disadvantages of Arranging a COVID Party
The first disadvantage of arranging such a party is infecting people who are not exposed to this virus yet. If even a single infected person is present at this party, remaining all people can get infected. 2nd, these newly infected people are not alone that will get infected, now they are poised to infect their family members, friends, and their co-workers.
Most of the party attendants may get recovered from the virus and develop antibodies, but these antibodies don't work forever. After 3-6 months, there is a possibility that they will get infected again.
6-What Will Happen If We Achieve Herd Immunity Against Covid-19?
Well, the answer to this question is a little trickier. As no community on earth yet achieved the herd immunity against the Covid-19, predicting anything is not sure for now. But, we can get an idea from the flu herd immunity. We have achieved herd immunity against the flu using vaccine multiple times, but it hasn't last long. There is a strong possibility that even if we achieve herd immunity against Covid-19, it will not last long.
Herd Immunity is Mostly Temporary
Herd immunity never lasts long, at least in the case of flu. The virus changes nature every year and we need a new vaccine every time to deal with the new flu virus. If same happens in the case of Coronavirus, the herd immunity will not last longer than flu herd immunity.
7- Is Herd Immunity Achievable Without a Vaccine?
Herd immunity and vaccines are interlinked. Many people believed this virus will get under control eventually even without the vaccination. According to them, herd immunity is achievable naturally, as more and more people are recovering and developing antibodies. But according to most of the experts, achieving herd immunity without a vaccine is impossible. These experts have the opinion that this virus will stay for a long time in most of the countries of Europe, North America, and even Asia.
Vaccine and Herd Immunity
Only when an effective vaccine is in widespread use around the world, the level of immunity necessary to achieve herd immunity is possible. Only at this point, the virus may start to burn itself out. There is one more expert's opinion regarding herd immunity and vaccination. The Coronavirus will stay forever with humanity, just like the seasonal flu. Now, it is up to us, how we want to live with it.
Picture 3: Without Vaccine, achieving herd immunity is nearly impossible (Picture credit: Unsplash.com)
8- How Long Will It Take to Have a Covid-19 Vaccine?
The trials for discovering effective Covid-19 vaccines have already begun. If these trials go well, chances are higher that we will get the first Covid-19 vaccine in 2021. Some experts are even hoping to get vaccines as early as the latter part of 2020, but it will be too soon to expect a vaccine as multiple steps are involved in developing a vaccine.
Steps Involved in Developing a Vaccine
To make sure, a vaccine is safe to use, it goes through various formation steps before it hit the market. For example, its trial on a significant number of patients is necessary before ascertaining that it is effective. After initial clinical trials and large scale trials, if a vaccine found to be effective in both the cases, its commercial-scale production begins. After production, distribution also takes significant time.
Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, experts are searching for ways to deal with the evolving situation. In the absence of a vaccine, various methods are being deployed to minimize the spread of the virus. One of these methods includes herd immunity. The concept of herd immunity is relatively older. In herd immunity, 60-70% of the community population is first exposed to the virus. When they develop antibodies in their bodies to deal with the virus, they not only protect themselves but also the community against the spread of the virus.
However, many experts believe the idea of herd immunity is dangerous as it will cripple the health systems of the countries. Therefore, the only way forward is to take precautionary steps and wait for the effective vaccination for a permanent solution against the virus.