The concept for attaining herd immunity by exposing populations to COVID-19 is not only a scientific disaster but deeply unethical, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a virtual address Monday.
The concept of herd immunity has been doing rounds lately endorsed by a handful of international groups of scientists including Sweden where the country remained remarkably open throughout the pandemic.
In herd immunity, proponents stress the benefit of natural immunity (antibodies) developed against a virus once it has infected enough people in a population which has therefore attained significant immunity for the spread to further.
Critics has slammed the move earlier, at time even drawing comparison with mass killing of sick people.
The WHO chief said herd immunity is ideally a concept used for vaccination where a considerable portion of a population has been inoculated and the remaining minority gets automatically protected from the virus.
In case of polio, the vaccine threshold of 80% has been reached. And in case of measles, the vaccine threshold of 95% population has been attained. These translate that 20% population in case of polio and 5% in case of measles will be protected from the spread.
“Never in the history of public health has herd immunity been used as a strategy for responding to an outbreak, let alone a pandemic,” Dr. Tedros said.
“Herd immunity is achieved by protecting people from a virus, not by exposing them to it.”
Last week an international group of scientists under what was stated as the “Great Barrington Declaration” signed an open letter demanding to allow the youthful and healthy populations to return back to normal life while protecting the aging and sick.
The document highlighted herd immunity. Later Sky News investigation found the letter contained numerous fake names, including signatures by homeopaths, someone from the “university of your mum.”
Dr. Tedros highlighted chasing the so-called herd immunity when a dangerous virus is in the air is not only “scientifically and ethically problematic”, but “allowing a dangerous virus that we don’t fully understand to run free is simply unethical. It’s not an option.”
He also pointed out, that very little is known about the whereabouts of the novel virus that emerged in Wuhan last year and has so far killed over a million people and infected some 37 million globally.
The scientific community is still struggling to realize the nature of the virus, the immunity bodies produce against it and the length of time it can maintain the immunity.
To date, only 10% of countries’ population has been infected with the virus, said Dr. Tedros, adding that the vast majority still remains susceptible and letting the virus spread unchecked would be an unnecessary infection, suffering, and death.
0.6% of those who contact the COVID-19 dies, WHO technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove said in the Monday briefing. She said the number may not sound astounding but is a lot higher than that of influenza.
WHO has been optimistic about a potential vaccine coming out by the end of 2020, We The World earlier reported and has seen a surge in support for its global vaccine distribution plan COVAX.