COVID-19: What Is Herd Immunity? Is India Ready For It? Find Out

Bhubaneswar: The Chief Spokesperson of Odisha Government on COVID-19, Subroto Bagchi in his daily briefing on Monday referred to ‘herd immunity’ being “the only option of containing the pandemic besides the laid down norms, which, he said, is undesirable”

Indian researchers have been deliberating on ‘herd immunity’ as a possible solution to contain coronavirus in the past few days. Elsewhere, Sweden has opened a Pandora’s box saying the country could reach the herd immunity level by May with a few public restrictions. Sweden’s ambassador to the United States, Karin Ulrika Olofsdotter told National Public Radio (NPR), “About 30 percent of people in Stockholm have reached a level of immunity,” 

What is herd immunity?

In very simple words, it means, letting a large percentage of the population get infected so that they can recover, develop antibodies and become resistant to it. 

While that percentage changes based on the pathogen, the United Kingdom’s Chief Scientific Adviser has said models indicate about 60 percent of a given community would need to be immune to reach herd immunity for the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2.

How do you become immune?

There are two ways: One is through the natural process of catching it and building an immunity; the other is by having a vaccination against it.

Due to the body’s ability to build immunity, once enough population has had an infection, or has been vaccinated against it, the infection is no longer as active and doesn’t spread from person to person as easily.

This means that those who haven’t had the infection or can’t have the vaccine are more protected. 

Will it work in India?

Researchers at Princeton University and the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy (CDDEP), a public health advocacy group based in New Delhi and Washington, are saying that this questionable strategy could actually work in India because it has a disproportionately young population that faces a significantly lesser chance of hospitalisation and death due to coronavirus.

Jayaprakash Muliyil, a prominent Indian epidemiologist told Bloomberg, “You may be able to reach a point of herd immunity without infection really catching up with the elderly. And when the herd immunity reaches a sufficient number, the outbreak will stop, and the elderly are also safe.” Muliyil and the other researchers speculate that if this virus were to be unleashed onto India’s population in a controlled manner, it could make at least 60 percent of its population immune by November.

What do they recommend?

India should lift its strict lockdown, which has been imposed till May 3 and allow people under the age of 60 to return to normalcy. In the meantime, it should stress on avoiding large gatherings and the importance of social distancing and face masks. The reopening of society must also be accompanied by ramped up testing, patient identifying and isolating efforts, while senior citizens should continue to stay in quarantine and get priority for testing and treatment.

What do critics say?

The restrictive testing in India anyway pushes them in this direction. The main justification for adopting this strategy is to prevent the economic consequences of the lockdown. “We’re dealing with a trade-off against starvation and hunger,” says Ramanan Laxminarayan, Director of CDDEP and a Princeton researcher. He says that while deaths in such a situation are inevitable, they will potentially be much lesser than the damaging backlash of businesses shutting down, which could lead to starvation and suicide.

What Does World Health Organisation (WHO) Say?

Ultimately, it’s a matter of putting citizen’s lives at risk for the sake of the economy, a decision that could come with grave consequences. WHO says, “We still don’t know enough about the virus or its capabilities to adopt risky strategies like herd immunity.”

Questions remain how immune a recently recovered coronavirus patient actually is, and how long that immunity lasts. WHO has warned against governments issuing so-called “immunity passports” to those who have recovered from the disease caused by the coronavirus, COVID-19, in light of the unsettled science. 






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