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Why Herd Immunity would not work for the Covid-19 pandemic

Published May 16, 2020


DURBAN – Herd immunity would not work for the Covid-19 pandemic, experts warned.

This is because pandemics are difficult to predict as viruses mutate at different rates and symptoms change regularly especially with Covid-19. This makes it difficult for virologists to isolate mutational and behavioural characteristics of the specific virus.

According to the Oxford dictionary, herd immunity means “the resistance to the spread of a contagious disease within a population that results if a sufficiently high proportion of individuals are immune to the disease, especially through vaccination.”

This means that if most of the human population is immune to a specific infectious disease, then this would provide indirect protection to those that are not immune to that specific disease. Vaccines help to achieve herd immunity with an infectious disease like measles, chickenpox, mumps and polio.

However, without a vaccine, herd immunity does not work with the Covid-19 pandemic. Vaccines are vital to helping humans to become immune to infections. Vaccines contain antibodies and a sample of the virus which is injected into a person. The small dosage of the virus infects the human, however, the antibodies in the vaccine help to build the human’s immunity which in turn fights the infection.

The term herd immunity emerged from veterinary epidemiology which is a branch of medicine that deals with the possible control of diseases in animals. This means letting the infected die for the benefit of the rest of the animal population.

Dr Mike Ryan, the World Health Organisation's (WHO) emergencies director said: "Humans are not herds. So I think we need to be really careful when we use terms in this way around natural infection in humans because it can lead to very brutal arithmetic which does not put people and life and suffering at the centre of that equation.”

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