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Thursday May 14 2020
Web Desk

Explainer: What is herd immunity and will it work in Pakistan?

Web Desk

There has been some debate of late on the term “herd immunity” and if that is the way to go in combating the deadly coronavirus.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson first floated the idea to tackle the pandemic by suggesting that it would control the spread of COVID-19. However, the country’s health secretary later denied that it was ever considered by the government.

What is herd immunity?

In group or herd immunity a population is protected from an infectious disease when it is immune from the virus either thorough vaccination or by developing antibodies.

The term is used to calculate the number people who would need to be vaccinated.

Also read: Coronavirus capable of spreading through speech: study

When more and more people become immune to the infection, they act as buffers between those who could spread the virus and those who are most vulnerable, such as children, the elderly, pregnant women or those with weak immune systems.

Eventually, the spread of the virus slows down and the chain of infection is broken.

The world used this technique to eradicate small pox in the past.

Will it work in Pakistan?

Since COVID-19 still does not have a vaccine, this could be dangerous gamble, says experts.

Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz, an epidemiologist working in chronic disease in Sydney, Australia, recently wrote in the Science Alert that 70 per cent of the entire population would have to be immune from COVID-19 to stop it from spreading.

He further adds that if coronavirus’s fatality rate is around 0.5 to 1 per cent, and if “70 per cent of an entire population gets sick, that means that between 0.35-0.7 per cent of everyone in a country could die, which is a catastrophic outcome.”

“Also 10 per cent of all infections will need to be hospitalized,” he said, which means more pressure on the country’s healthcare system.

“Humans are not herds”: WHO

The World Health Organistaion (WHO) has called the concept very “dangerous” for the pandemic.

Dr Michael Ryan, the executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies programme, recently told reporters in a press briefing that “humans are not herds and the concept of herd immunity is generally reserved for calculating how many people will need to be vaccinated in order to generate that effect.”

He added that this idea that “maybe countries who had lax measures and haven’t done anything will all of a sudden magically reach some herd immunity and so what if we lose a few old people along the way? This is a really dangerous, dangerous calculation.”

Dr Ryan said that this thinking could lead to a “brutal arithmetic.” This, he stressed, is a serious disease. “This is public enemy number one.”