WHAT IT IS
- Herd immunity occurs when enough people become immune to a disease to make its spread unlikely. [Harvard Health Publishing]
- It is also known as community immunity. [Association of Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology]
- Scientists believe the entire community will be protected when 43% to 70% of the community has reached immunity. [The New York Times]
- Herd immunity is usually achieved through vaccination, but it can also slowly occur through natural infection. [Harvard Health Publishing]
- Scientists are increasingly agreeing that the virus will not simply "go away." [Scientific American]
- There is a growing movement in the United States to resist vaccinations and to resist vaccinations that were developed by foreign countries. [Foreign Affairs]
- Without a vaccine, herd immunity may never be reached. [NPR]
WHY IT MATTERS
SOCIAL: The WHO says COVID-19 herd immunity "not a solution we should be looking to." [PBS NewsHour] Vaccines expedite and ensure herd immunity, yet a third of Americans say they are "unwilling" to get an FDA approved, free vaccine once available. [Statista] Relying solely on natural herd immunity is a lengthy process and would cost millions of lives. [U.S. Department of Health and Human Services]
CIVICS: Should the federal government rely on natural herd immunity? Or, how can local, state, federal leaders work together to educate and convince U.S. citizens that vaccines are critical for everyone's safety?
Benefits to natural herd immunity are:
Herd immunity is one way to protect the community against a virus.
Once a critical mass is immune to the virus, it becomes difficult for the virus to pass amongst community members. [Harvard Health Publishing]
Herd immunity is a natural defense mechanism. There is no need to inject or injest medical substances.
Consequences to natural herd immunity are:
When relying solely on a herd immunity without vaccination to fight the disease, scientists estimate that globally 70% immunity would cost around 54 million deaths. [The Atlantic]
Read more from TIME about why some believe natural herd immunity to be dangerous and inhumane.
Natural herd immunity would take a long time. Without a vaccine, the virus would need to spread throughout the entire community. Because of globalization, the virus would also have to spread throughout the world. [NPR]
Natural herd immunity would "buckle" the U.S. health care system, as the current system of doctors and hospitals cannot care for that many sick people. [NPR]
WHERE WE ARE NOW
- Sept. 2020: Sweden embraced the herd immunity theory at the start of the pandemic. Authorities estimated 40% of their population would have immunity by May. In September, only 14% have immunity. [The Los Angeles Times]
- Sept. 2020: At an ABC townhall-style interview, President Trump said "herd mentality" will stop the spread of COVID-19. It is unclear if the president meant to say herd immunity. [The Guardian]
- July 2020: Some evidence suggests the body's inability to remain immune to COVID-19. "If immunity is only temporary, then the epidemic may not 'end'" [NPR]
THINGS TO THINK ABOUT
- Scientific research and understanding of novel instances, like COVID-19, take a long time. It is for good reason. Read more.
- Who should get a COVID-19 vaccination first? Read more here.
- What do we know so far about COVID-19?
- The whole world is competition and invested in a vaccine to treat or stop COVID-19. How might this global effort change or strengthen relationships and business?
- If Americans largely do not accept a vaccine for COVID-19, will travel bans against U.S. citizens continue?