Well, as anticipated after so many weeks of staying indoors and maintaining a social distance to stop the spread of this devastating virus, many people are now clamoring to go outside and resume some of their usual activities. Furthermore, there are some influencers, reporters, politicians, and even a few medical professionals who are suggesting that it might be beneficial for people to leave the safety of their dwellings and begin socializing. These are the promoters of the “herd immunity” concept.
The concept of herd immunity is generally described in the context of a vaccine. The idea is when enough people are vaccinated, a virus cannot spread easily throughout the population. Let us take the measles for example; if a person becomes infected with the measles virus and if everyone that person interacts with has received the measles vaccine, transmission of the measles will be eliminated. Vaccination levels must stay above a threshold that depends upon the transmissibility of the virus.
Since we do not presently have a vaccine for COVID-19, developing immunity to this disease would require a person to actually become infected with the coronavirus. For this idea to be a good one, we would need to be certain that prior infection would confer immunity to future infection, as with the measles vaccine.
The scientific community is “hopeful” but NOT yet certain that this is the case with COVID-19. Even if it turns out to be true, nobody knows how long the immunity would last. REMEMBER, this virus was only discovered around the beginning of this year!
Folks, in my opinion the herd immunity concept is not a particularly good idea at this time. We simply do not have enough information now to take the risk of losing many more lives and shutting down the economies of the world for indefinite periods of time.
Since we first recognized this to be a pandemic, we have been focusing on social distancing to flatten its curve. This approach makes sense for the following reasons: it gives the scientists some time to develop treatments and hopefully vaccines, it decreases the overall strain on the health care systems, and it gives the CDC and other agencies time to create methods of testing and tracing the virus.
Obviously COVID-19 presents an enormous challenge to those whose job it is to manage it, however there is sufficient evidence that some methods are more successful than others. To those who are promoting the herd immunity method at this time I say let’s be patient.