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Definition: Herd immunity is a form of indirect protection from disease. When enough individuals become immune to a disease, it reduces transmission to the rest of the population.
Likely, you’ve now heard of the term “herd immunity.” But, what does it really mean, and why is it important? Find out all you need to know about herd immunity and how it can benefit you.
“Population immunity,” also known as “herd immunity,” is a form of indirect protection from an infectious disease. This shield emerges when the wider population is immune to the disease. Immunity can either develop through infection or with vaccination.
The WHO recommends slowing down infectious disease transmission using herd immunity. However, this is only acceptable when done naturally and not by encouraging any portion of the population to transmit disease. This would result in needless cases and deaths.
You can easily understand herd immunity with the right example. For instance, when a person recovers from an infectious disease, they become immune to it. If this happens in a population, clusters of people with immunity emerge. These individuals act like barriers that block the disease from spreading. As a result, the whole population becomes protected, even the people that have not acquired immunity.
How many people from a community need to be immune to a disease for herd immunity to work? The answer depends on the disease and its characteristics. Above all, the more contagious the disease, the larger the portion that must have immunity to stop it from spreading. For example:
There are two available approaches to herd immunity for the coronavirus pandemic, which are vaccination and infection.
Creating a vaccine for COVID-19 was, without a doubt, the ideal way to achieve herd immunity. Vaccination can give you immunity without causing any complications and illness. Herd immunity protects a whole population from disease, including those with compromised immune systems or who can not be vaccinated.
Through vaccination, deadly contagious diseases such as polio, smallpox, rubella, diphtheria, and various others have all been sufficiently eradicated in terms of an outbreak.
However, achieving herd immunity through vaccines often has some drawbacks. Some vaccines may have their effect decrease over time and require revaccination. Moreover, sometimes people tend to forget or ignore the vaccines’ follow-on shots, which are crucial for completing the disease’s immunity.
Additionally, some people might even be against vaccination because of cultural or religious beliefs, fear of the risks, or are skeptical about its benefits. This kind of opposition can create a real challenge for herd immunity.
Another way to achieve herd immunity is through natural infection. This happens when a sufficient number of people in the community recover from a disease and develop their own immunity against it in the future, for instance. Those who survived and recovered from the influenza pandemic in 1918 were later found to be immune to H1N1 flu, a subtype of influenza A.
However, relying on community infection to create herd immunity against COVID-19 has some issues. It still isn’t clear if people who recover from COVID-19 will be able to fight off future infections. Research suggests that reinfection from the same virus is possible, but further investigation and research are needed to test these unknown possibilities.
Experts estimate that 70% of the whole population, which is about 230 million Americans, need to get infected and recover to create herd immunity and halt the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. This can be a problem as it will put a lot of pressure on the health care system as it will not be able to cope if all of these people become sick at once.