Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Herd immunity alone won’t stop COVID-19. Here’s why.

We have better ways to fight the pandemic.

Herd immunity is the point at which enough people in a population are immune to a disease—whether because they have already recovered from infection or been vaccinated—that the pathogen cannot easily spread through the community and cause new outbreaks. Unsplash

By Kate Baggaley

One of the White House’s top medical advisors has recommended that the administration adopt an approach to handling the pandemic that would allow the novel coronavirus to quickly infect massive numbers of people in hopes of reaching herd immunity, The Washington Post reported on August 31. The plan, reportedly advocated by Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, has drawn swift criticism from infectious disease experts.

“We’re talking about something that...basically would be relying upon an outbreak that would lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans,” says William Hanage, an epidemiologist in the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “The numbers of people who would be rendered vulnerable to this are surely larger than anybody should be prepared to accept.”

Herd immunity is the point at which enough people in a population are immune to a disease—whether because they have already recovered from infection or been vaccinated—that the pathogen cannot easily spread through the community and cause new outbreaks. Trying to achieve herd immunity without a vaccine’s help, as Atlas is proposing (though he later denied that he pushed for this measure after The Post’s story was published), would entail lifting social distancing restrictions on businesses and gatherings so the disease could spread among young, healthy people. Meanwhile, other steps would be put in place to protect particularly vulnerable populations. However, the course of action would put truly staggering numbers of people across all age groups at risk of serious illness and death.  Read more >>