Herd immunity could end the COVID-19 pandemic, but could overwhelm healthcare systems

A vaccination for COVID-19 is not expected to arrive for another 12-18 months

FARGO, N.D. — There are two ways to become immune to an infectious disease; to become infected and recover or to receive a vaccination.

To reach herd immunity, the majority of a population would need to become immune in one of those ways. That would make the disease less likely to be spread to those who aren’t immune because there would be less carriers to reach them.

It’s possible this could be the way to end COVID-19, but with no vaccination expected for at least the next 12 to 18 months, infecting others is the way this concept would be reached.

“Herd immunity is acquired by the natural infection rather than by a vaccine because we don’t have one. If enough people don’t die from the virus, then there will be a subgroup of people who will remain immune to the virus. When most of the population is immune to the virus, then we will break the chain of transmission and then the epidemic will end,” says Sanford Health infectious disease specialist Dr. Avish Nagpal.

This method assumes that those who have gotten and recovered from COVID-19 then become immune to the virus. While other respiratory diseases like influenza would lead experts to assume that is a believable assumption, it has yet to be proven.

“We really hope that once you get an infection, it behaves like other viruses and you don’t get reinfected. We are very optimistic that that is the case, but we don’t know that for sure,” adds Nagpal.

Dr. Nagpal says he doesn’t believe this is an ideal method because of the strain it puts on healthcare systems.

“The speed and severity is really something unreal with this pandemic so in one week, this pandemic can crush a hospital system, so I don’t think it is a very sound public health policy to let everybody develop herd immunity,” says Nagpal.

While a vaccine is still a ways away, Dr. Nagpal says he’d rather wait.

“The goal is to get a vaccine, so what comes first; the herd immunity or the vaccine?” asks Nagpal. “I really hope that it is the vaccine that comes first.”

Categories: Coronavirus, Health, Local News