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Herd Immunity

05/11/2020

WHO says concept of herd immunity is a "dangerous calculation"

Dr. Mike Ryan, the executive director of the World Health Organization (WHO) health emergencies program, said the concept of herd immunity is “dangerous.”  

“This idea that maybe countries that 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," Ryan said at a news briefing on Monday.

The term herd immunity is taken from veterinary epidemiology, where people are “concerned with the overall health of the herd, and individual animals in that sense, doesn’t matter,” Ryan said. “Humans are not herds.” 

Ryan said the world needs to be careful using the term, as it “can lead to a very brutal arithmetic which does not put people and life and suffering at the center of that equation.”

Many people are still susceptible: Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO infectious disease epidemiologist, said there are about 90 studies that are coming out showing results of antibody surveys. Van Kerkhove said WHO hasn’t been able to “critically evaluate” all the studies, as many of them haven’t been published yet.  

“What is interesting from the studies that are coming out is that many of them, across a number of countries in Europe, the United States and Asia have found a very low proportion of the people that have been tested have evidence of antibodies,” Van Kerkhove said.

The range is between 1% and 10%, she said, and that a large number of people remain “susceptible” to the coronavirus.

“That’s important when you think about what may happen in subsequent waves, or what may have as a potential resurgence,” Van Kerkhove said.