Why ‘herd immunity’ might be the only way of tackling COVID-19

While sharp rise in ‘pandemic’ cases is making headlines, death statistics tell a whole other story — which is good news.

Why ‘herd immunity’ might be the only way of tackling COVID-19

While sharp rise in ‘pandemic’ cases is making headlines, death statistics tell a whole other story — which is good news.

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson announced this week the government’s plans to deal with the ongoing “pandemic” while stressing, cancelling major events “will have little effect on the spread.”

“We are considering the question of banning major public events such as sporting fixtures. The scientific advice, as we’ve said over the last couple of weeks, is that banning such events will have little effect on the spread.”

Furthermore, Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor and renowned medical doctor, Sir Patrick Vallance stated “about 60% of people will need to become infected in order for the UK to enjoy herd immunity.” In the same interview, he reportedly acknowledged COVID-19 being a “nasty disease” but emphasised most people would only experience a mild illness.

This swiftly drew attention of noisemakers and the opportunistic opposition (Labour) MPs waiting to take jabs at the incumbent conservative leadership. What followed was a Twitter firestorm of ‘loud voices’ dominating opinions on the topic but having no credibility on it.

The general consensus has been a sharp criticism of the UK government for not doing enough, when contrasted with governments of South Korea and Italy.

Yet no one has complete answers. There is very little that’s known about COVID-19. There are no vaccines. The efforts to impose “self-isolation” measures and shutdowns — no matter how stringent, will only work so well for so long. They aren’t and won’t necessarily be containing the disease either.

In all honesty, it is true that herd immunity is experimental too. It is known to work when most of the population is vaccinated, which isn’t the case now. But popular alternatives such as lockdowns aren’t practically feasible either, and haven’t promised much yet.

Death stats are optimistic

Probability of dying (“mortality rate”) by age groups for those who contract COVID-19

What people seem to not be noticing is, for everyone that may contract the disease, the majority of people will not experience major symptoms but rather develop a mild flu-like illness. In fact, NHS 111 online assessment for coronavirus doesn’t even require oneself taking action unless symptoms are seriously evident. Even then, their advice is to stay at home, unless one feels so ill that their daily routine activities are hard to keep up with.

For the vast majority of healthy population, the probability of dying from contracting coronavirus is well below 4%. My own friends and acquaintances who contracted coronavirus recovered within few days and reported no more “unease” than what they had experienced with a seasonal flu. And that is optimistic.

By contrast, influenza in the U.S. had caused about 34 million illnesses, 350,000 hospitalizations and 20,000 deaths according to CDC, which sounds far more dangerous than COVID-19, despite a vaccine existing for the former.

For the vulnerable populations, people with compromised immune systems and those aged 70 and above—whom we should focus on isolating and protecting, there’s countless other illnesses which could have the same or worse impact than COVID-19, like the flu. Yes, there’s a vaccine for it unlike with coronavirus, but the question we must ask ourselves here while putting emotion aside is, for a tiny fraction of unfit population — who are old enough already, if I may, and who may be impacted by the ‘pandemic,’ is it necessary for the majority to freak out, suspend trade, and panic to the extent of not living?

I’m not trying to be heartless towards anyone’s loved ones who may be impacted by the virus, but as a society we need to establish a fair amount of balance between emotion and what’s pragmatic for everyone.

Shutdowns are impractical

Of course, common sense dictates keeping good hygiene and showing concern for yourself and for everyone’s safety. Prevention is superior to chasing cures. By that logic, it is important to avoid crowds and “self-isolate” should you suspect the illness.

But to go on to the extent of shutting down cities, suspending healthy economies, and having to layoff staff members only for a small percentage of vulnerable population to marginally benefit — that too is a big maybe, sounds like a bigger concern to me than contracting coronavirus itself.

Stocks have crashed, interest rates have plummeted for investors, airlines are laying off staff, travel is hampered, and mortgage rates are on the rise.

None of this has prevented the spread. But all of this is impacting us.

Not everyone has the luxury of working from home. Some jobs really are too good to be lost in the name of COVID-scare. Bread and groceries still have to be delivered by someone to your nearest store. Pharmacies must remain open. Energy and water must continue to be supplied. Public transport is indispensable, as are ride-hailing services. Mail needs to continuously be delivered. Garbage needs collection. Air travel is a necessity too in our globalised world. A prolonged shutdown is simply impractical.

Your job could be next

If you are one of the noisemakers supporting shutdowns and lockdows of cities and think you won’t be impacted by this, carefully consider your own job. With numerous layoffs going on and the vast impact on most businesses, very likely it’ll be your paycheck which may be impacted next by a semi-functional economy.

I’d rather take my chances with the virus itself and come clean after a week of recovery, than live in a suspended economy which doesn’t even guarantee total safety from the disease.

“Scientific opinions” vary on the subject

UK government’s stance on the situation, while drawing criticism, has also attracted support from some scientists and analysts, such as Dr. Clare Wenham, assistant professor of global health policy at the London School of Economics, who told CNN:

“I am the first to admit that I’m not Boris Johnson’s biggest fan. But I’m relatively impressed that unlike other political leaders, who’ve kind of bowed to the pressure of each other and their populations to implement school closures — which we don’t have enough evidence to know if it will make a difference or not — Johnson is listening to the current evidence that’s out there.”

Conclusion

It seems to me that as a society we have become too cowardly to face, embrace and break through challenges posed by the first wave of a novel natural occurrence. Yes, this is a great challenge. And yes, this will impact a minority of population disproportionately — as could any other illness, but that’s what survival of the fittest has entailed for centuries.

There is no guarantee that “herd immunity” will work for everyone, but given the uncontrollable rise in COVID cases, limited resources, lack of a vaccine, and the impracticalities associated with halting trade, it might be our only option. And frankly, it says more about the British as a society when faced with an inadvertent adversity than those succumbing to any and all means, no matter how flawed, to try and evade death.

To feel entitled enough to demand the government into becoming our sole protectors while vouching for solutions that will destroy jobs, businesses and many livelihoods — potentially our own, without offering much protection, is a request too counterintuitive.

Keep calm and carry on. #CORONASTRONG.

© 2020. Ax Sharma. All Rights Reserved.

Ax Sharma

Security Engineer | Researcher | Tech Columnist | https://hey.ax

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