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Coronavirus Outbreak Explained: What Is Herd Immunity And Can It Control The Coronavirus Pandemic?

As the world grapples to find ways to end the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an increasing discourse on pursuing herd immunity to overcome the disease. Here is what is herd immunity

What Is Herd Immunity And Can It Control The Coronavirus Pandemic?
Highlights
  • Herd immunity can be achieved through vaccination or getting infected: WHO
  • At least 60% of the population must become immune
  • In absence of a vaccine, herd Immunity can be dangerous: Experts

New Delhi: The current COVID-19 pandemic is still expanding its reach even though most countries across the world have restrictions in place including strict lockdowns and social distancing norms to cut down the spread of the virus. Based on what experts know about the novel coronavirus, can a phenomenon called ‘herd immunity’ be an answer to this crisis? The United Kingdom and the Netherlands were the first countries to take herd immunity approach in dealing with COVID-19. However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that “herd immunity” strategy is experimental at best and dangerous at worst. National health organisations like National Institute of Epidemiology, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) have also highlighted that this process could harm a large number of individuals. The UK has now given up on its herd immunity building approach.

Also Read: Coronavirus Explainer: Why Is A Lockdown Important?

NDTV spoke to some experts to understand what is this phenomenon and what role can it play, if at all, in overcoming the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

According to Dr. Ambarish Dutta, Associate Professor, Indian Institute of Public Health (IIPH) Bhubaneswar, herd immunity is a uniform amount of immunity that at least 60 per cent of the population in a community, in case of COVID-19, must develop to slow down the spread of infection. He said,

When enough of the population is resistant to a germ, its spread stops naturally because not enough people are able to transmit it.

How Can A Country Achieve Herd Immunity?

According to Dr. Dutta, herd immunity can be achieved in two ways. The first way is through mass vaccinations, which for COVID-19, is still under development. The second way is through the infection which means that a person gets infected and after a while, they develop antibodies to fight the infection and thus become immune to it. Since currently, the vaccine for COVID-19 is absent; countries around the globe like, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Sweden and Holland are experimenting with the second method.

Elaborating on the phenomenon, Dr. Rakesh Sahay, Endocrinologist and Diabetologist, and Professor at Osmania Medical College in Hyderabad, said that there are a large number of people who are asymptomatic – who show no symptoms at all or have just mild symptoms like mild fever, mild cough. Most of these people will recover from the virus without getting hospitalized, he said. This will contribute to increasing the herd immunity, Dr. Sahay added. He said,

Once a lot of people develop the infection, about 80 per cent of them have mild symptoms but they overcome the virus and develop immunity. This happens as Immunoglobulin M (IgM) levels increase in their body initially and then Immunoglobulin E (IgE) levels. IgM is mainly found in blood and is the first antibody that the body makes when it fights a new infection. IgE is normally found in small amounts in the blood but the number may be higher when the body overreacts to allergens or is fighting an infection from a parasite. This immunity helps in preventing re-infections and when a large extent of the population develops this immunity then the risk of new infection or cases decrease.

Also Read: COVID-19 Outbreak: Why Are Asymptomatic Patients, A Worry For India? Doctors Explain 

Risks Involved in building herd immunity through infections

While it may prove to be effective in the long run, shooting for herd immunity right away would be a dangerous strategy especially because there is no vaccination, according to experts. This is because a large number of people will become severely ill causing a sudden boom in sick people needing hospital or ICU (Intensive Care Unit) care, ventilators or oxygen support which will overwhelm the healthcare system of the country.

Dr. Dutta pointed out that the effectiveness of herd immunity approach for a country will depend on the structure of the population of that country. He said,

In India, the dominating population is of youth. Young people are generally healthier with a stronger immune system than the elderlies. They can fight with the infection and build immunity against it in a much faster way. This is true with any kinds of viral infection. However, in Europe, much of the population is older because of which these countries there have experienced more severity and more fatality as far as COVID-19 is concerned. Since the immunity is low among most of the population, depending on herd-immunity through infection is not a wise step considering the gravity of the pandemic. Great Britain tried herd-immunity, it failed very badly.

Earlier in a tweet, Richard Horton, editor of the British medical journal ‘The Lancet’, also said that the British government is “playing roulette with the public”.

Dr. Dutta added that countries like Sweden and Holland are also trying herd immunity. They are not discouraging the younger population from moving around. These countries, as per Dr. Dutta are taking the risk of letting the youngsters get the infection so that they can become immune to it, assuming that they have a strong immune system. However, he highlighted that there is no guarantee that they will not get severely ill or there will not be any long term effect on their body due to the infection or when they come home, they will not infect the older people in the house. Denmark is another country that is gearing up to go the ‘herd-immunity path’ and ease the lockdown currently imposed.

He said,

We don’t know enough about the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV 2. There is a lack of evidence around the science of this virus. Thus the immunology for the virus is also not known yet.

WHO director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a media briefing has also emphasized on not easing the lockdown restrictions as only a tiny proportion of the global population, maybe as few as 2 per cent or 3 per cent, appears to have antibodies against coronavirus.

The experts recommend that while the social distancing norms must remain enforced, the health authorities and policymakers should be cautious about herd immunity as there is no shortcut and the country should ideally try to achieve herd immunity through vaccination.

Also Read: Nutrition And COVID-19: Drink Ample Water, Eat Unprocessed Food, Advises WHO To Lower Risks Of Infections

World

23,96,06,768Cases
20,13,42,617Active
3,33,82,100Recovered
48,82,051Deaths
Coronavirus has spread to 195 countries. The total confirmed cases worldwide are 23,96,06,768 and 48,82,051 have died; 20,13,42,617 are active cases and 3,33,82,100 have recovered as on October 15, 2021 at 4:15 am.

India

3,40,37,592 16,862Cases
2,03,6782,908Active
3,33,82,100 19,391Recovered
4,51,814 379Deaths
In India, there are 3,40,37,592 confirmed cases including 4,51,814 deaths. The number of active cases is 2,03,678 and 3,33,82,100 have recovered as on October 15, 2021 at 2:30 am.

State Details

State Cases Active Recovered Deaths
Maharashtra

65,86,280 2,384

33,157 6

64,13,418 2,343

1,39,705 35

Kerala

48,29,944 9,246

96,421 1,802

47,06,856 10,952

26,667 96

Karnataka

29,82,399 310

9,607 43

29,34,870 347

37,922 6

Tamil Nadu

26,83,396 1,259

15,451 199

26,32,092 1,438

35,853 20

Andhra Pradesh

20,59,122 540

6,588 27

20,38,248 557

14,286 10

Uttar Pradesh

17,10,008 12

135 4

16,86,976 16

22,897

West Bengal

15,79,012 530

7,576 81

15,52,491 601

18,945 10

Delhi

14,39,311 28

337 1

14,13,885 29

25,089

Odisha

10,33,809 521

4,890 38

10,20,645 477

8,274 6

Chhattisgarh

10,05,614 16

203 4

9,91,841 20

13,570

Rajasthan

9,54,382 8

42 6

9,45,386 2

8,954

Gujarat

8,26,244 34

215 20

8,15,943 14

10,086

Madhya Pradesh

7,92,669 12

111 1

7,82,035 11

10,523

Haryana

7,71,035 16

105 158

7,60,881

10,049 174

Bihar

7,26,016 8

42 6

7,16,313 2

9,661

Telangana

6,68,618 168

4,171 40

6,60,512 207

3,935 1

Assam

6,05,847 207

3,646 157

5,96,263 362

5,938 2

Punjab

6,01,971 33

234 11

5,85,199 16

16,538 6

Jharkhand

3,48,406 11

130 4

3,43,141 7

5,135

Uttarakhand

3,43,729 28

175 22

3,36,157 6

7,397

Jammu And Kashmir

3,30,834 93

935 11

3,25,473 104

4,426

Himachal Pradesh

2,21,113 182

1,387 5

2,16,011 173

3,715 4

Goa

1,77,356 68

679 27

1,73,342 39

3,335 2

Puducherry

1,27,259 49

647 4

1,24,763 53

1,849

Manipur

1,22,432 69

1,444 15

1,19,099 84

1,889

Mizoram

1,10,719 901

13,601 435

96,744 1,332

374 4

Tripura

84,295 4

110 8

83,369 12

816

Meghalaya

82,734 87

892 31

80,411 115

1,431 3

Chandigarh

65,295 10

32 5

64,443 15

820

Arunachal Pradesh

54,958 4

202 22

54,476 26

280

Sikkim

31,722 6

224 1

31,108 7

390

Nagaland

31,516 9

230 8

30,613 17

673

Ladakh

20,867 6

44 2

20,615 4

208

Dadra And Nagar Haveli

10,675

3 1

10,668 1

4

Lakshadweep

10,365

2 0

10,312

51

Andaman And Nicobar Islands

7,640 3

10 1

7,501 2

129

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