WHO: Many People Will Die in Effort to Achieve Herd Immunity
Herd immunity occurs when enough people become immune to a disease, often through vaccination or natural infection, to make its spread unlikely. As a result, the entire community is protected, even those who are not themselves immune, according to Harvard Medical School.
The threshold for herd immunity to the coronavirus is estimated between 60% and 80% of the population.
“Whatever that number is, we’re nowhere near close to it, which means this virus has a long way to burn in our communities before we ever reach that,” Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies program, said on a live Q&A Wednesday that was streamed across multiple social media platforms.
Ryan added that simply allowing the virus to spread in communities would only create more problems.
“The idea that we would have herd immunity as an objective, in some sense, it goes against controlling the disease because if you were to say, ‘We need to have a herd immunity of 70% and we should let the virus spread until we get to 70%,’ we’ve seen what happens,” he said.
“Hospitals get overwhelmed. A lot of people die.”
Moreover, for those who survive the COVID-19 infection, they could still experience debilitating long-term health effects.
“Anyone who looks at patients who are severe with COVID realizes this is a very severe, multiorgan disease that stresses many systems in the body, the cardiovascular system, the neurologic system,” Ryan said.
“And we have to assume in milder cases a similar process is happening at a milder level.”
Ryan noted that there have been several reports of young people with no underlying health conditions who get the virus but only experience problems weeks or months later.
“They can’t run. They can’t exercise, they are out of breath, having coughing fits,” he said. “Who wants or needs that?”
It is, however, possible for world leaders and public health officials to work together to bring the virus down to “low levels.”
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.