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:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herd_immunity

https://www.webmd.com/lung/what-is-herd-immunity#1

https://www.healthline.com/health/herd-immunity

49 comments

  • Natural immunity is the most effective kind. Whatever doesn’t kill you really does make you stronger. All those colds and flu you’ve caught over the years? They’re stored in a card catalog of antibodies in your immune system, just waiting for the same bacteria or virus to come around again. Of course, vaccines are safer (less likely to kill you); that’s why we use them. Young people have fewer kinds of antibodies, but their body-bodies are healthy and resilient enough to withstand the infection. Anybody, immune or not, can be a carrier of the virus. If an immune person touches an infected item (say, a box of cereal at the grocery that a COVID-positive person coughed on), he won’t get sick, but he can spread the virus by touching other things in the store with his contaminated hands, like other food items, the handle of the shopping cart, the buttons on the credit card machine, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s pretty much my sentiment right now. I’m trying to avoid the virus, due to my age and underlying conditions. But I’m glad to see young people getting out and taking their risks. The sooner they develop immunity, the sooner I’ll be safe from them, in my view.

      Liked by 1 person

  • I have a friend who is a bio-chemist and far more intelligent in science than me. He says that for COVID that herd immunity won’t work, and he gave a link with information on why, if I can find it. If you want something yet more to help confuse you. 🙂 You are right there is so much info out there on both sides, and no one is 100 percent sure. My friend isn’t claiming that he knows for sure.
    Young people usually are more resilient that is true, but from what I hear it is starting to affect young people more than before, sooo who really knows. I say that you are doing the right thing though by trying to avoid the virus, keep yourself safe! That’s expert advice from your highly “certified” psychiatrist!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Vaccination is one approach to herd immunity. So if your friend thinks herd immunity won’t work, I wonder if he’s including vaccination in his estimation.
      With all the mixed messages out there about the virus, it’s apparent that the experts are very much in the dark. So I like the idea of nobody taking drastic action. And drastic action, in my view, includes lockdowns and the utter destruction of our economy.
      I’m for relying on the common sense of natural herd immunity, while trying to develop a vaccine, until science can affirmatively verify that natural herd immunity won’t work.

      Liked by 1 person

      • He is for vaccination, but he also realizes, like you pointed out, how very long it is going to take to vaccinate everyone.
        Yes, common sense is what we all really need in handling this virus, but sadly its what so many lack!

        Liked by 1 person

  • Oh Tippy, why why must you call what you have common sense? It’s just your opinion. It’s not some common and irrefutable truth that the rest of us share with you. I don’t share this opinion with you. Just because you believe something doesn’t make it common sense. If the President of the United States can get up and use his ‘common sense’ to imply that people should maybe look at injecting themselves with disinfectants, is that valid simply because he believes it’s common sense to look at that? He has opinions. You have opinions. I have opinions.

    “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.” I think you’re joking here but please realize these experts are trying to do things right. They’re people just like you and me and have expertise in certain things. I’m sure they’re doing their best but I’m not sure it’s helpful to equate anyone with any knowledge and opinion to people who’ve worked so hard to gain their training and insight. All opinions are fine. I really really hope people such as the POTUS listen to trained professionals rather than their own gut. I hope we all do.

    It’s a good discussion about what might be truth. These are complicated issues. Sometimes, it’s okay to say that we don’t know things. Hell, I don’t know how we got here… this human experiment is grand and beautiful, but how did it actually happen? How did existence happen? I don’t know. I have an opinion. But I don’t know.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s an opinion that quite a few people have in common with me. But not everyone. And you’re one.

      But I will agree that it’s more accurate to say, “I agree with those who hold such and such opinion” rather than “common sense” as that implies that not everyone holds the same opinion. Perhaps the term “common sense” is never accurate to use.

      There is much we don’t know about many things, including this virus. When people don’t know much about something, I prefer a more conservative approach than that which has been taken. So in this regard, it appears you and I have different preferences.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s right, different opinions. I put a lot of emphasis in trained people who get the science, rather than my own opinions, when I know that my knowledge is lacking. I think that’s a simple way to look at things, for me anyway.

        Liked by 1 person

  • According to what I have read from the Medical Organization of Ontario (MOoO), this herd immunity is a bunch of bull crap. But the Health Organization of Finland (HOoF) would seem to counter that, so who can tail.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Why do I just feel the sudden need to “MOOOOOO?”

    Liked by 1 person

  • Anti-bodies does not equal immunity. It may or may not. We will see. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-immunity-to-covid-19-really-means/

    So exposure could be all for naught.

    Sweden is trying this experiment and so far have only seen more deaths than their neighboring countries. We will see if they will be better off in the long run. Or whether this actually helps their economy. There are so many global connections, it’s hard for any country to run the economy on their own.

    For an unclear reward, it seems very, very risky.
    https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2020-05-01/covid-19-sweden-hasn-t-cracked-the-coronavirus-code

    Liked by 2 people

    • To me, a key word in discussing this virus is “could”. I also like words like “guess”, “possibly”, and “maybe”. In fact, the experts seem to be using those words a lot. We’re in unknown territory here, where hindsight could be much more clear than foresight. I guess.

      It feels encouraging to me, when I see that the number of cases are declining in parts of Europe. That tells me that perhaps antibodies could be helping. If the lockdowns are responsible for the decline in deaths, and antibodies have played no part, then deaths could go right back up to their former levels, as lockdowns and other restrictions are eased. I guess only time will tell.

      Like

  • Most people in my town and county got sick back in the early winter. During all of this, we’ve only had four confirmed cases in our entire county, and they are testing daily. The National Guard is even here trying to find positives, but they can’t. I wonder if it’s possible that many people here have already had it. I don’t know much about it all, but I hope it continues to stay away from us.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It could be. That would be nice if that was the case, and the fact that your county hasn’t had many cases, could mean that herd immunity is possible.

      When people insist there’s no evidence we can develop immunity to this disease, I wonder if they’re considering the implications. That could mean we’re all doomed, and the human race is coming to an end.

      If I had to bet, I’d bet on immunity. If I won that bet, I could collect. But if I lost, I wouldn’t have to pay, because I think we’d all be dead.

      Liked by 1 person

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