There has been a lot of buzz lately about herd immunity and how it can stem the COVID-19 virus. Is this concept justified during the pandemic? There is heated debate, but the medical community is predominantly against herd immunity for COVID-19.
So before I get into some medical facts, I want you to picture this… if herd immunity, as it’s defined today, moves forward, there would be several susceptible people infected who cannot fight COVID-19 the way other people may fight it based on age or pre-existing conditions. As a result, there would be huge spikes in illness which would likely cause an increase in hospitalization rate and therefore put a heavy burden on the medical system. This is not about flattening the curve but spiking the curve. Because of the overwhelmed medical system, many will not get the care that they need and will probably perish.
Let us now assume in the grimmest of situations, that all the weak have ultimately perished without a vaccine or confirmed treatment, even though there are some proposed treatment options out there. Guess what. The virus still will not have disappeared. Once it satisfies its thirst and hunger for the weak, we have seen the virus mutate and will probably pick a new weakness or susceptibility in human kind.
So do we let this new wave of people get infected and die off? When does this cycle of mutation, infection, and death end?
That is the core problem with herd immunity. It does not take into account the virus living on, mutating, and adapting to find its next human host. It will continue its path of destruction by mutating and adapting.
So what is herd immunity?
Herd immunity occurs when a significant portion of the population becomes immune to an infectious disease, therefore limiting further spread of the disease. The risk of spread from person to person decreases. Those who were not immune are indirectly protected because ongoing spread is small. However, this is where the definition diverges.
There are 2 ways to achieve herd immunity: 1) through infection and recovery or 2) by vaccination.
During this time, we do not have any current vaccines to protect against the COVID-19 virus. Therefore, the only option that is being discussed right now is herd immunity through infection, option 1. This relies on enough people being infected with the disease and ultimately recovering from it, subsequently developing antibodies against future infection. However, we have seen people being re-infected with COVID-19.
The key to achieving herd immunity through infection is hoping that enough people would become infected with the disease, recover and survive from it and therefore developing antibodies which are used not only for themselves but as potential donors in the form of plasma antibodies for use with other people.
There is an assumption that if large population adults develop immunity after infection, the disease may still circulate among children. However, it is well documented that children are less susceptible to the severity of COVID-19 and the risk gets progressively worse with age. People with underlying medical conditions have been more susceptible.
Some examples of COVID-19 susceptibility include diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. There are also susceptibilities for people without active disease. We have discovered that people with certain blood types may have a higher risk of severity with COVID-19. A few studies have shown that people with blood type O have the most reduced risk for developing COVID-19. Those with blood type A may have a special high risk of developing a severe case of COVID-19 or dying from the disease. People with vitamin D deficiency also have a high susceptibility of developing a severe case of COVID-19.
Therefore, this raises the ultimate question, is this mother nature’s way of natural selection? Is this a new inflection point in human evolution by eliminating those with a weaker inherent immunity by letting them die off?Should we let all the type A blood type perish?
Is herd immunity another way of saying that we should let the weak die and let the strong survive? If that is the case, then we are letting our own human race decide who should move on and who should be left behind. Sounds very similar to World War II, where a certain person decided that another race was unfit to live on this earth. Is this the new biologic holocaust?
If we adapted herd immunity as a medical doctrine, we probably would have let AIDS, Hepatitis B, and other viral diseases run its course. Why bother doing annual flu shots. Let the body’ natural immunity deal with it. Can you imagine the consequences?
This raises the greatest ethical question and one that many in the medical community are against. Why? Because this has the potential for causing massive casualties to benefit the ones who may have the stronger immunity or perhaps genetic predisposition to survive COVID-19. Yet, it still does not guarantee that those who survive will live later from a stronger mutated virus.
So what now?
Herd immunity through vaccination is what most medical professionals advocate. This is because vaccination creates immunity without getting the disease and also protects those who cannot become vaccinated, such as the newborns and people who are immunocompromised.
With vaccination, the disease spread is very limited within the population. Areas with low vaccination coverage may have some outbreaks but not to the extent when there are other people who are vaccinated and prevent spread. I understand it that over time vaccine protection may decrease over time and therefore repeat vaccinations are necessary.This is not uncommon with other vaccinations such as tetanus.
It is slowly being accepted that this pandemic will eventually shift to an endemic, in that this virus will live on and mutate as continue to fight it with vaccinations just like we fight various flu viruses with annual vaccinations.