Herd immunity for Covid-19 is a ‘dangerous’ concept says World Health Organisation

The Canary

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has condemned the “dangerous” concept of herd immunity for Covid-19.

Herd immunity is an epidemiological term usually reserved to describe how the population as a whole is protected from a disease depending on the levels of people vaccinated.

For instance, when 90%-95% of the population is vaccinated against measles, this should be enough to protect others who are unable to get an inoculation – such as babies before they reach the age at which they can be immunised.

Asked about the concept being applied to the Covid-19 pandemic, the WHO said “no-one is safe until everyone is safe” and it is “dangerous” to think that countries can “magically reach herd immunity”.

Dr Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies programme, told a press briefing in Geneva: “Humans are not herds, and, as such, the concept of herd immunity is generally reserved for calculating how many people will need to be vaccinated and the population in order to generate that effect.

“This is a serious disease, this is public enemy number one, we have been saying it over and over and over and over again.”

He said “no one is safe until everyone is safe”, adding: “So I do think this idea that ‘maybe countries who had lax measures and haven’t done anything will all of a sudden magically reach some herd immunity, and so what if we lose a few old people along the way?’ – this is a really dangerous, dangerous calculation.

“And not one I believe most member states are willing to make that arithmetic.

“Responsible member states will look at all their population – they value every member of society and they try to do everything possible to protect health while at the same time, obviously, protecting society and protecting the economy and other things. We need to get our priorities right as we enter the next phase of this fight.”

Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead of the WHO’s Covid-19 response, said preliminary data from studies has shown that very low levels of the population have actually been infected with the illness.

“There seems to be a consistent pattern so far, that a low proportion of people have these antibodies.

“And that is important, as you mentioned, because you mentioned this word ‘herd immunity’, which is normally a phrase that’s used when you think about vaccination. You think what amount of the population needs to have an immunity to be able to protect the rest of the population?

“We don’t know exactly what that level needs to be for Covid-19.

“But it certainly needs to be higher than what we’re seeing.

“What the… studies indicate to us is that there’s a large portion of the population that remains susceptible.”

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  • Show Comments
    1. If no one is vaccinated then the Herd Immunity Concept was nonsense from the very begining. Who’s idea was it to suggest this deciet as a solution to coronavirus?
      This was proposed by the governement.
      People ought to know who initiated this as a solution to a deadly virus.
      Its that simple.

    2. “it is dangerous to think that countries can magically reach herd immunity” is not in any way the same thing as “herd immunity is dangerous”. The headline suggests explicitly that herd immunity itself is dangerous, when that is obviously not the case.

      I appreciate the work that everyone is doing at The Canary, but this headline is irresponsible journalism; please, stop using “herd immunity” as shorthand for “policies prioritising the short-term economy at the expense of those most vulnerable to CoVID-19 in the name of herd immunity”.

      Herd immunity is the desirable outcome of successful vaccination programs, doing nothing to lower infection rates and allowing millions to die is not the result of herd immunity but neoliberal policies. Many people have seen headlines that seem to suggest that herd immunity itself is an issue, but lacking any epidemiological grounding do not appreciate the context of these statements. This conflation is ultimately damaging and will lead to a lot of completely avoidable confusion that- when the popularity of certain current conspiracies are taken into account- has the capacity to potentially affect adherence to vaccination in the future.

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