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Is herd immunity policy the solution?
May 28, 2020 1

How can we confront the damages caused by COVID19?
Until when are we going to be in lock-down?

With the outbreak of the COVID-19, most countries have resorted to the imposition of strict measures to deal with this epidemic as reflected in the declaration of the state of emergency and quarantine. However, there were some countries that have adopted the herd immunity policy allowing people to interact and go to public places without the interruption of social and economic mobility by adopting more flexible measures relying on peoples’ awareness in dealing cautiously with the virus. The logic behind this approach is that when the biggest numbers of people become infected with this disease, most of them will recover and automatically develop autoimmunity and this will gradually reduce and limit the chances of the spreading of the virus and crisis will end.

With the negative repercussions witnessed by the world resulting from the lock-down and quarantine policy, especially at the economic level, the absence of a vaccine for this virus and expectations that it will be ready late this year or early next year, and while the world is expecting another wave of infections, we pose the following question, and is certainly a strategy that became a topic of significant debate in the political and medical circles.

Is the world going to move towards herd immunity policy today to confront the damage caused by the Corona crisis?

Supporting Arguments:

Our only option to fight the vastly negative effects of this pandemic it to adopt the herd immunity policy

Herd Immunity is our best shot until a vaccine is developed

In the absence of a vaccine to this day and expectation that it will be produced early next year, it as become practically impossible to talk about a continued quarantine policy and the idea of ​​accepting this epidemic and adapting to it became a necessity and  priority. Even if the quarantine policy have proven to be effective in limiting the spread of the virus, it has not succeeded to this day in eliminating it or slowing it down. Epidemiologists and infectious disease scientists confirm that the virus will continue to spread and evolve, and that without a vaccine it will not stop infecting people and this crisis will not end. On the other hand, scientists expect that most people all over the world will ultimately be infected by the virus if a vaccine, is not produced. During this phase, there will be a possible positive impact of the herd immunity policy.  It will accept and cope with the idea of the virus and it will even accept the idea of allowing it to spread and infect a big number of people.  This will lead to the development of herd immunity capable of weakening the virus, limiting its spread and decreasing the number of deaths, which will be limited to old people while young persons and those with a strong immunity system will be able to easily overcome it and recover from it without even showing symptoms. Therefore, they will develop an immunity against the virus, which will protect them from another possible wave, especially if the virus becomes seasonal or endemic.

Developing the herd immunity against the virus will greatly contribute to eradicating it until a vaccine is produced. Perhaps the Swedish model is a good example of the success of the herd immunity policy.  Sweden has adopted a different path from the rest of the world and it did not resort to the lock-down policy. It relied on the understanding and awareness of its people in dealing with the virus and today it has recorded the lowest rate of infections and deaths in Europe, unlike Italy, France and Germany, where the number of infected people, despite the declaration of the state of emergency for months, is still high.

Saving the Economy

The adoption of the lock-down policy has caused an economic catastrophe, which leads us to the second argument: the herd immunity policy, which is today the solution for saving the economic wheel after the economic deterioration lived by the world due to the quarantine policy. In the long run, the lock-down and closure of shops and public markets, will inevitably lead to paralysis of the economy and then social mobility.  Many people will find themselves without a source of livelihood and victims of unemployment, as a high percentage of sectors cannot survive remote work and depends on open markets and public places.

Moreover, government initiatives and assistance cannot last long, as they will burden even strong states, not to mention developing and poor countries with their economies dependent on self-employment, mobility and social interaction.  If this situation continues and if the lock-down and quarantine do not end, there will be a global economic suicide. Overcoming this situation and the adoption of the herd immunity system, together with strengthening health care and making more investments in the health sector to accommodate for the numbers of infected people is important and it is a priority.

Opposing Arguments:

Herd immunity policy is an illusion, and it’s an inhumane and immoral policy

Herd immunity policy is not the solution

On the other hand, those that don’t support the herd’s immunity policy argue that it is not the solution to confront the COVID-19 and its harms and it is an inhumane and immoral policy. They say that it will make the situation worse and will lead the world to a catastrophic situation on several levels.

This policy sacrifices the elderly and those with weak immunity systems to save the economy and this is an inhuman and unethical approach. Until the time the herd immunity level is reached, the virus will infect millions and kill thousands. Moreover, this policy assumes that people who contract the Corona virus then recover from it will develop immunity against it, but this has not yet been proven by researchers, given that some of the people who have recovered from the disease have been infected again. This idea means that survival will be for the fittest and in other words it will be for those with a strong immunity system and for younger people at the expense of the weak and elderly who will be the victims. Sweden, which is now presented as an ideal model in confronting the virus by the herd immunity policy has acknowledged that it had sacrificed the elderly and that it failed to protect the old people who suffered the most from the spread of the virus.

Overcrowding the health sector

The increase in the number of infected persons, even among the elderly, will increase the number of victims among doctors and medical workers, especially with the absence of resources and personal protective tools and this will lead to the collapse of the health system.  Experts assert that reaching the herd immunity means that the percentage of infected people should be more than sixty percent and this will put pressure on the medical staff; a pressure that cannot be tolerated by powerful countries, let alone developing countries. This leads us to the argument that ​​maintaining the economic activity by adopting the herd immunity policy is an illusion and it will only make the situation worse.  The economic life will not return to normal, especially after the quarantine experience.  Demanding transition to the herd immunity will lead to great enthusiasm for return to normal life and the number of infected people may reach millions in the absence of awareness, especially in countries with limited economic capacities.  Who is willing to carry on going to work while waking up every day with news of hundreds or thousands of deaths?

Not to mention, all countries that have eased the quarantine measures without adopting the herd immunity policy, have abandoned its measures and demanded quarantine and the state of emergency again due to the high number of deaths. This will take us back to the starting point, but this time with a wave of a higher number of infected persons and deaths, more pressure on the medical sector, and to the depletion of economic resources to be spent on health facilities.  Therefore, the idea of ​​ economic recovery and considering it a priority at the expense of health will only become a nightmare and nothing can eliminate other than the production of a vaccine.

By: Abeer Al Majrouh – QatarDebate ambassador from Tunis

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  1. The choice between herd immunity and quarantine is difficult but pushing the world towards forced online must also be discussed.
    This is the right time to question the misuse of wealth on weapons leaving people who produce wealth victim to the pendanic like covid-19 and not preparing strong health systems.