Members of community discuss herd immunity as method to manage COVID-19

The+concept+of+herd+immunity+has+been+offered+as+a+possible+action+step+instead+of+the+lockdowns.+Students+and+faculty+members+reflect+on+herd+immunity+and+compare+it+to+other+methods+of+controlling+COVID-19.+

Screenshot of survey results

The concept of herd immunity has been offered as a possible action step instead of the lockdowns. Students and faculty members reflect on herd immunity and compare it to other methods of controlling COVID-19.

By Vittoria Di Meo, The American School in London

The U.K. has already experienced two lockdowns due to COVID-19, with the first one beginning March 16, in which non-essential shops and schools were closed. The second lockdown began Nov. 5, in which non-essential shops were closed again and people from different households could only meet in pairs. 

However, the concept of herd immunity has been offered as a possible action step instead of the lockdowns. Herd immunity is when a sufficient percentage of the population has achieved immunity to a virus, which can be achieved in two ways. According to Johns Hopkins University, the first way is when most of the country’s population contracts the virus, allowing them to gain antibodies and build immunity to the virus.

Yet, Science Teacher Deborah Luheshi said that the effects of herd immunity are fatal. 

“The idea of letting people become ill will result in a lot of unnecessary deaths,” she said.

The second way to achieve herd immunity is to vaccinate enough members of the community so that people are immune to the virus and its spread is stifled. 

Vaccinating one place is not going to necessarily help the whole global population, there is a system set up, in terms of who would be vaccinated first.”

— Science Teacher Deborah Luheshi

Nicolas Erdly (’24) said that vaccinating everyone is a better way of achieving herd immunity than letting people catch the virus and build an immunity to it. 

“A large percentage of the population has autoimmune disorders like diabetes,” he said. “If we were to let everyone roam free, and just try to achieve herd immunity by all letting the virus spread and so everyone becomes, builds up an immunity to it, that could be a problem.”

Currently there are two vaccines which have high success rates: one developed by Pfizer and BioNTech’s and one developed by Moderna. The two vaccines have proved to be 95% effective in clinical trials alone. The high efficacy of these vaccines allows herd immunity through vaccination to be a possible approach for the near future to deal with COVID-19. 

However, Luheshi said that the vaccine approach is more complicated than it seems.

“Vaccinating one place is not going to necessarily help the whole global population, there is a system set up, in terms of who would be vaccinated first,” she said. “Normal care workers would be the first people who would have access to the vaccine because they are most exposed to it every single day … then the people who are most vulnerable, cancer patients and other people whose immune systems really cannot cope.”

Luheshi instead said that a better alternative to herd immunity is a more rigorous lockdown.

“A stricter lockdown would be more effective in saving people’s lives,” she said.

Similarly, Erdly said that, regarding the government, there are ways in which they could have done more to implement a stricter lockdown.

“Enforcing the current lockdown, modifying it based on the situations, you know, perhaps make it a bit more stringent because not everyone’s adhering to it as well as they can be,” he said. “We need to make sure that the lockdown is being followed by everyone.”

Despite the fact that the U.K. is in its second lockdown, Anna Duffy (’20) said that the country’s populace seems to ignore and disregard this lockdown more than the one in the spring.

“Even when I’m on my way to school in the morning, it seems just as crowded as it was three weeks ago before lockdown was put into place,” she said. “The government, as much as they’re enforcing it, doesn’t really feel as strict as other lockdowns have been like the one we had in March and into the spring.”

Even when I’m on my way to school in the morning, it seems just as crowded as it was three weeks ago before lockdown was put into place.”

— Anna Duffy ('21)

Alongside the lockdowns, there has also been an economic plummet and a growth in mental health problems, such as anxiety, seen in young adults. A study by the U.K. COVID-19 Mental Health & Wellbeing showed how the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on suicide rates predicted increases, ranging from 1% to 145%.

Bringing up the economy, Duffy said “It’s a hard, because they need to prioritise, they need to balance, keeping people safe but also keeping the economy going and having businesses so being able to make money which is difficult”

Luheshi said that, due to underfunding, the NHS is not equipped to handle issues such as mental health. 

“The NHS has not been properly funded for a number of years,” she said. “Hopefully, what would happen if NHS workers are less stretched with treating COVID patients, they’d be able to more treat the patients who are coping with mental health issues during lockdown.” 

Luheshi said that the government should listen to the scientific evidence for next steps to deal with this pandemic. 

“I feel like using science more is what really should be happening,” she said. 

This story was originally published on The Standard on November 24, 2020.