COVID-19 herd immunity | It’s not going to happen, so what next?

[ANALYSIS] COVID-19 herd immunity | It’s not going to happen, so what next?

2021-08-04 07:40:00 AM

[ANALYSIS] COVID-19 herd immunity | It’s not going to happen, so what next?

When politicians and others speak about herd immunity, unfortunately, they are under the misconception that the current tools we’ve got are adequate to eliminate the virus.

Instead we should be talking about how to live with the virus. The tremendous success that’s materialised with COVID-19 vaccines allows us to do this, without actually getting into the herd immunity threshold.Peddling the concept of herd immunity creates a misconception that we are actually going to get to a stage where this virus is going to be eliminated. That’s unlikely to happen. It will continue circulating.

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There are a number of dangers in continuing to make people believe it’s possible.Firstly, it could dent confidence in vaccines. Even if South Africa gets to its target of67%of the population being vaccinated – as set out by the Department of Health – there will still be outbreaks of COVID-19. The result will be that people begin to doubt the benefits of being vaccinated. Also, for the now dominant Delta variant, immunity against infection (not only COVID-19 illness) would need to be closer to 84% for the “herd immunity” threshold to be reached.

Secondly, failing to face up to the reality that herd immunity can’t be achieved will mean that countries like South Africa will continue to believe that ongoing restrictions will get them there. That will compromise the lives of people on multiple fronts – including education and livelihoods. headtopics.com

What is herd immunity?Herd immunityis when someone infected by the virus won’t, on average, infect another person. So you reach a state where the immunity in the population against infection by the virus is such that there are too few people in the environment for sustained onward transmission to take place to others.

This is because they’ve developed immunity against being infected, or at least have developed immunity to the extent where even if they were infected, they would be able to clear the virus very quickly and wouldn’t be able to transmit it to other people.

So herd immunity essentially means that you have brought about an absolute interruption in the chain of transmission of the virus in the population in the absence of other interventions that too could interrupt virus transmission such as wearing of face masks.

But some changes have forced a shift in our thinking about herd immunity. It’s now viewed much more as an aspiration rather than actual goal.What’s changedFirstly, the evolution of the virus and the mutations that have occurred.One set of mutations made the virus much more transmissible or infectious. The Delta variant headtopics.com

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is just such an example. Initially we thought the SARS-CoV-2 reproductive rate was between 2.5 and 4. In other words, in a fully susceptible population every one person infected would on average infect about two and a half to four other people. But the Delta variant is at least twofold more transmissible. That means that the reproductive rate of the Delta variant is probably closer to six rather than three.

The second change is that the virus has shown an ability to have mutations that make it resistant to antibody neutralising activity induced by past infection from the original virus, as well as antibody responses induced by most of the current COVID-19 vaccines.

The third big issue centres on the durability of protection. Our memory responses are lasting for at least six to nine months at themoment. But that doesn’t mean that they will protect us against infection from variants that are evolving, even if such memory responses do assist in attenuating the clinical course of the infection leading to less severe COVID-19.

The fourth issue conspiring against us being able to reach a herd immunity threshold any time soon is theinequitable distributionof vaccine across the world, the slow uptake and the sluggish rollout. Unfortunately, this provides fertile ground for ongoing evolution of the virus. headtopics.com

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