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Can Herd Immunity Really End The COVID-19 Pandemic? You Were Thinking It All Wrong!

Herd immunity has become a quotidian in today’s time. “When will the COVID-19 pandemic end?”, “Is COVID over in India?” are some of the most asked questions on Google. The virus has left the people despaired, dreaded in the hope that one day this pandemic will end, and they may resume their lives again. Similarly, the pandemic has killed thousands of people worldwide, while millions lost their jobs, forced to sleep empty-stomach. Education is halted, exams are either canceled or on the verge of getting canceled, children are thwarted as they have to spend most of their time in front of screens, forced to attend the classes. The online class is not only affecting their mental health but deteriorating them physically as well, as, at such a ripe age, they’ve no choice but to wear visual aids like spectacles to assist their weakening eyesight.

Coming back to our foremost topic- herd immunity, it is a form of indirect protection of humans against any disease that infects them at a rapid rate. When a sufficient amount of the population achieves an immune response against the disease, either through vaccination or pre-infections, they achieve herd immunity. It protects people prone to infection and reduces the chance of spreading the infection. In the COVID-19 pandemic, herd immunity will play a vital role as it will contain the spread of the pernicious virus and ensures vital protection of the population against it. Vaccinating a large number of people is not practically possible now within few years as vaccine production is still going on. Also in the countries like India, the ongoing vaccine crisis had proved that herd immunity remains the last hope against the protection from the virus. But, is it really going to eradicate the COVID-19 pandemic?

The yearn for heard immunity

Herd immunity has become a ray of hope for people because it is the only means by which we can get back to our normal lives once again. It is like a “utopia” because even though we can achieve it, its authenticity is still questionable. It may be difficult to admit that herd immunity can eradicate the COVID-19 pandemic as it is still debatable, even though we overcame the massive second wave of COVID. It almost feels like giving up on life, with the cloud of uncertainty covering our future. The pandemic’s ending can still be understood, if we clearly understand the meaning of herd immunity.

It can be called a pure fantasy as many of us dream that suddenly one day we wake up we hearing that the COVID-19 pandemic has ended and we can continue our regular lives again. But spoiler alert, nothing like this is going to happen, and I have a solid scientific explanation behind it. Herd immunity isn’t something magical or a cutoff to end the pandemic. It is a rare sight that slightly makes up for the news. So face it, herd immunity is unquestionably not the ending of the COVID-19 pandemic. Among human diseases, smallpox is the only example of the protection of herds that have been taken everywhere. As a result of the ongoing global vaccination effort, over the past. Total eradication of the COVID-19 pandemic seems improbable right now. Even though, if we somehow manage to achieve herd immunity, it would be required continuously to eradicate the pandemic, as we all know the virus keeps mutating. Smallpox is the only human disease that was eradicated as a result of herd immunity. But it was a long process that took almost 40 years. The vaccination drive for smallpox continued for 40 years hence, there are 0 cases of smallpox globally now. So we can say that vaccination is the only reason for the eradication of smallpox from the earth. It took 200 years for us to reach this smallpox-free world! Our generation people will not get the vaccine for smallpox, because there is no smallpox left to get.

The outbreak of measles in the US a few decades ago indicates a weakening of the herd’s defenses. We reached a nadir in 2000 when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that measles had been removed from the US. Although our protection usually lasts a lifetime, every year babies are born, and every year we need to vaccinate one-year-olds to keep up. If we could stop vaccinating measles today, it would not be long before the number of children who have never had a gun is enough to cross the defensive line of the measles herd. Even a small percentage of parents who decide whether the measles vaccine is not right for their children can lead to outbreaks – especially if their children spend time together. Because, as herdsman Carl T. Bergstrom points out, infectious diseases occur locally.

The herd immunity threshold

Herd immunity threshold is nothing but the number of people required to maintain the herd immunity once the cases reach their lowest point or nadir. It is not the number of cases it would take to declare the end of the pandemic or the number of cases that it will take for the cases to start dipping. Herd immunity is a part of complex science, not very easily understandable. There is no need to know the exact threshold required to reach herd immunity. We can only conclude that a population has achieved herd immunity, after actually achieving it. Without achieving it, it is merely an instance of wild guess, or complex scientific calculations. Please note it and elaborate it to as many people as you can- Herd immunity isn’t a magical phenomenon or number that would help you go in public places without masks it is simply a target that we need to maintain to stop the pandemic to return once again.

Scientists across the globe are still skeptical whether herd immunity can be achieved in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic because the virus is continuously mutating, and we can’t predict the mutations. As every new person gets infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, they give the virus a novel chance to improve its strategy and mutate. Hence, if we want to get rid of the COVID-19 pandemic, stop giving chances to viruses, wear masks, and try not to get infected. All infections are an opportunity for SARS-CoV-2 to experience a situation that is not clearly defined by the “required” poster provided to our immune system by previous vaccines or infections. This is why even people at low risk must be vaccinated (yes, including children). If herd defense is possible, it is still a long way off. Doubts about the widespread vaccine and the fact that vaccines are not available to everyone so far put you in an inaccessible place, even in countries that have bought most of the world’s vaccines. For example, the New York Times recently re-published the organization’s research data on vaccine skepticism suggesting that the majority of the United States will strive to reach defensive limits at any time soon increasingly skeptical among adults alone.

The bottom line…

To stop the pandemic, and prevent it from coming time and again, we need to firstly vaccinate the people who are the potential transmitters of the virus, that is youngsters. If we keep our vaccination drive in full swing, people who have weak immunity, that is people above 45, end up in ICU, but would be able to recover very soon. Cases will keep fluctuating, sometimes extremely high, sometimes extremely low, and finally settling down to its end. Don’t worry, we won’t have to wear masks forever, and herd immunity is surely not one of the methods by which the pandemic will end. 

Let go of the idea that suddenly the COVID-19 pandemic will end one day. It is a gradual process, frustrating but rewarding! The horror of living in this pandemic is enigmatic! So many people lost their lives, we saw the horror with our eyes. Mental health is deteriorating, and the trauma is real. But don’t fret! We won’t be living in the pandemic forever, and vaccination is the only way to help us get out of it. But until then, stay at home, wear your masks, and most importantly, stay negative! (pun intended).

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