What the Heck is Herd Immunity?
Have you herd of herd immunity? Sorry, but that’s one of Jason Frels’ favorite puns, and I had to beat him to the punch.
Herd immunity is not some cutesy wootsy term invented by anti-lockdown activists. No, it’s been around since the 1930s, when epidemiologists recognized that after a bunch of kids in a community caught the measles, there were fewer new cases for awhile. That’s because enough people in that community had acquired antibodies to the measles virus, through infection, to slow the spread of the virus.
It’s an unflattering term. Personally, I prefer the term “community immunity”. It rhymes and it’s catchy, just like viruses. I hope epidemiologists didn’t come up with “herd immunity” because they regard us as cattle. Lately, with their draconian rules, I’ve been wondering about that.
If I have a virus, but others have the antibodies, they can’t catch the virus from me, even if I get in everyone’s faces and make mooing sounds. That’s herd immunity.
Herd immunity only occurs with contagious diseases. So, since tetanus is not contagious, herd immunity cannot stop this disease.
But on the other hand, the more contagious a disease, the harder it is to attain full herd immunity. That’s because more people have to have the antibodies in order to prevent the spread of the disease. For instance, measles is so contagious, 95% of the population must have the antibodies, either through having been infected or vaccinated, in order to stop its spread.
The coronavirus is probably not as contagious as measles, but it’s still highly contagious. Experts vary widely in their estimates of how much herd immunity is needed, from 50% to 80%, or more. That’s because the experts don’t know jackshit about the coronavirus, and need more time to study it. My guess is they’ll figure it out about the same time we non-experts do.
There are two kinds of herd immunity: natural and vaccination. Vaccination is always healthiest, but first we have to have a vaccine. This may take a year or two, with the coronavirus, if it happens at all. So for now, we’re stuck with the method of natural herd immunity.
Natural herd immunity fights the virus the hard way. It’s sort of like a fait accompli, because you must catch the virus and suffer from it, in order to become immune to it. It’s like falling on a grenade to save yourself. Or like getting rid of bedbugs by burning your bed. Or like telling your spouse you cheated on him or her, in order to get the repercussions over with, from being caught.
And even with all this pain and suffering, if we do acquire herd immunity, that damned virus might mutate on us and we’ll have to start all over again.
Some scoff at the logic of natural herd immunity. They argue that you cannot logically claim it prevents the spread of the virus, since it requires the virus to spread in order to attain widespread immunity. There’s sort of a Catch-22 with Covid-19.
These are powerful arguments against natural herd immunity, in my view. However there are counterarguments which I believe are also powerful. Let me confuse you, by throwing those in the mix.
If the virus is allowed to spread among younger, healthier people, who are just itching to get out and have fun with their friends anyway, far less suffering and death would be caused by it. Especially if wiser, older people stayed away from these idiot younger people during this time. Younger people seem nearly bulletproof from this virus, and have often caught it without ever knowing they had it. So let them risk catching it all they want.
Eventually, the herd immunity younger people would acquire would prevent the virus from spreading to older people, who are far more likely to suffer or die from this disease. Thus, although this approach to natural herd immunity wouldn’t prevent the spread of the virus, it would prevent much suffering and death from the virus.
Also, the more young people with immunity, the slower the virus would spread, and the less likely our hospitals would be overwhelmed. This would help prevent many deaths, not just from the coronavirus, but also from all the other ailments that send people to hospitals.
Another argument for natural herd immunity is that if it’s allowed to occur quickly enough, it might eradicate the virus before it has time to mutate into something even more dangerous. That’s a gamble, but it could be another form of prevention.
So in my opinion, natural herd immunity, as a form of prevention, does make some logical sense.
Natural herd immunity is a hot topic these days, with lots of biased opinions both for and against it. But I won’t be buffaloed. I’ve tried to learn about it from unbiased sources on the internet. It’s been a challenge, but I managed some success from the following websites: