Tracking the Rationale of ‘Herd Immunity’

08-07-2020 12:04:45
By : Aditya Venkatesh


The term, ‘Herd Immunity’ is highly echoed in medical fraternity and much prevalent term in COVID – 19 pandemic. However, People are mostly confused & swayed by the excitement regarding the same. The very term ‘Herd Immunity’ is rapidly setting in and has become a buzz word these days. This is also being propagated by many Indian as well as the foreign scholars in their recent reports. Despite being a widely debated subject in the pandemic, insufficient data and absence of rational scientific model to support such a thought process have made the case of proponents of this theory highly untenable.

The given data and available facts entail a bad precedent by the scientific community that the term ‘Herd Immunity’ really exists. The critiques of this theory say that it’s just to brain wash the people in terms of COVID-19 outbreak and the concept of ‘Herd immunity’ is badly flawed lacks evidence. Here is some basic logical analysis based on current data which clearly indicates that this is widely exploited term by medical fraternity with no substantial data and model to validate it.

Now, let us know as what exactly ‘Heard Immunity’ is? To this, ‘Herd Immunity’ is an epidemiological concept that describes the state where a population – usually of people – is sufficiently immune to a disease that the infection will not spread within that group. In other words, enough people can't get the disease – either through vaccination or natural immunity – that the people who are vulnerable are protected. And now come to the point as to why this concept is flawed & over-hyped in time of what is called a crisis of century.

In congressional testimony in the month of May, Dr. Anthony Fauci has made it clear that there exists no conclusive evidence that the infection with COVID-19 results in long-term immunity, seconding the warnings of the World Health Organization (WHO) in the month of April. However, Fauci's statement may be in line with political tribalism &polarization. But no doubt, the facts are facts, and negation of it only increases the problem of common populace rather than alleviating it in times of such monumental global crisis of coronavirus.

Moreover, most of the countries across the world have begun reporting the results of large-scale tests of their populations for COVID-19 antibodies. Universally, these tests have shown that, even in areas with the worst outbreaks, only a small fraction of the population has been infected. Average data shows that only 5-6% population have been getting antibody, and to reach the stated target of Herd Immunity that is between 40% to 50% which is lower than scientific data given by the scientists. Earlier scientific community claimed that the herd immunity reaching percentage is 60% but recently, a research was published in science daily using mathematical model by the University of Nottingham and University of Stockholm, where it categorizes people into groups reflecting age and social activity level. When differences in age and social activity are incorporated in the model, the Herd Imunity level reduces from 60% to 43%. Even considering that latest model, it looks still unviable to reach the objective of ‘Herd Immunity’ at this colossal level. However, many researchers have come forward with their new studies and facts to validate their point of view.

An extensive study, released recently, has found that just about 5% of the Spanish population has COVID-19 antibodies. This is even though, Spain has registered the highest number of COVID-19 cases, as a share of population of any large country in the world. Even if recovery from infection guarantees immunity, which again is not clear, the hypothetical immunity for five percent (5%) of the Spanish population cost 28,385 lives. This means that the 50 percent infection rate necessary to see a decrease in cases would require the sacrifice of a quarter million (2,50000 thousand mortality) human beings, so the collateral of achieving the herd immunity is too high.

If similar figures hold in the United States, with its 330 million people, a hypothetical ‘Herd Immunity’ would require the sacrifice of nearly two million (2 million) people. Is it rationale? Are the proponents of this theory right in their assessment or it’s too early to conclude? Or are they in complete mad rush to prove a point? Take the case of Sweden, it has 10 million populations and there is no official goal of reaching heard immunity at particular point of timeline. Let’s consider it 60% of total population, where it will reach heard immunity, it will cost more than half million sacrifice of the population at the current rate of mortality. The experiment of reaching the “herd immunity” in Sweden simply crashed and endangered the lives of millions of people with a highly unscientific approach of the government. Many widely criticized this approach, as this did not any yielded desired result.

Now take the comparative analysis of the data in India on the basis of current model, reaching the optimum level of current population's herd immunity, India needs to infect around half of its population, which is 670 million and if we consider the current mortality rate, i.e. 3% , so reaching the cost of herd immunity would more than 20 million population of India that is unthinkable and irrational as the collateral damage is so high.


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