The ethics of ‘herd immunity’

I think a lot of people do not understand what ‘herd immunity’ actually means. This first graphic is what the very first case of Covid-19 would have looked like – 1 infected person surrounded by millions of people with no immunity at all:

Now contrast this with what happens when a population has 70 – 90% herd immunity:

When a newly infected person crops up, he or she is surrounded by people who have already developed immunity to the infection so the virus has nowhere to go and dies out.

Or to put it another way, the virus cannot reach new victims because they are protected by a barrier of people with immunity.

This is what is meant by ‘herd immunity’ – the protection of the uninfected by those who have already been infected. You could also say this is the protection of the weak by the strong. Bear that in mind.

But, and there’s always a but, you can only reach herd immunity if almost everyone in the population is already immune. The question then is: how do we get to herd immunity?

In the modern world, vaccination programs have all but eradicated diseases such as measles, small pox, polio, tetanus, tuberculosis, rabies etc. More importantly, people who have not been vaccinated are still protected because of herd immunity.

Is there any other way of acquiring herd immunity?

The simple answer is no, the more complicated answer is ‘maybe’. If you look at the list of quite deadly diseases eradicated by vaccines, you notice that they’ve been around for thousands of years. Assuming they were infecting quite a lot of people for all those thousands of years, why did humanity not gain herd immunity to them?

The answer is that 70 – 90% mentioned above. Relatively benign infections that didn’t kill off their hosts may well have led to herd immunity in the past, but deadly ones like small pox clearly didn’t. Isolation probably protected a lot of populations in the ancient world, but even today, with so many people travelling from one side of the world to the other, it’s still not possible for that many people to be infected and recover all at once.

Without an effective vaccine, Covid-19 will continue to circulate through the global population for years, much like the Spanish Flu.

If an effective vaccine against Covid-19 is never found, we will have no choice but to gain herd immunity the hard way. But the cost will be heavy. The elderly and those in ‘care’ will die. A lot of medical personnel will die. And so will people of all ages who have pre-existing medical conditions.

One of the highest co-morbidities for Covid-19 is diabetes.

And guess what? There are 422 million people with diabetes in the world today, and 1.6 million die directly from the condition each year. Now add Covid-19 to that mix and you get an awful lot of people aged 20-70 at risk of dying.

Other co-morbidities include high blood pressure, lung conditions, HIV etc.

Now imagine all these people dying, year after year after year until we reach the magic number of 70 – 90% immunity.

It’s a horrible scenario, yet many governments are flirting with the concept of ‘natural herd immunity’ because they see it as a magic bullet that will save their economies. Sweden is one such country, and the almost inevitable results are now in:

Taken from a video posted by Dr John Campbell: https://youtu.be/K4SQ-NOV-iU

From left to right, we see Country, population, number infected [with Covid-19] and number died [of Covid-19].

Sweden has roughly twice the population of Norway, Finland and Denmark, but about five times as many infections. When it comes to deaths, however, Sweden is waaaaay out in front. But it’s the breakdown of those deaths that’s truly horrifying. A great many have occurred in care homes where the sick have received next to no basic care. Instead, many doctors have recommended cocktails used for end-of-life palliative care. These cocktails often have a negative effect on the respiratory system. And yes, that means the sick and elderly die faster.

I strongly suggest you visit Dr John Campbell’s Youtube video for more details.

When I was a kid, I remember learning that the ancient Greek state of Sparta would place newborn babies out on a hillside overnight, so that only the strongest would survive to become warriors. Later on, I learned that in [some?] Eskimo tribes, the elderly would walk out onto an icefloe and calmly wait to die, so they would not be a burden on their communities.

I do not know how accurate either of those stories are, but they taught me the difference between voluntary euthanasia and state sanctioned, involuntary euthanasia. I felt sad for the Eskimo elders, but even now, so many decades later, I still feel nothing but contempt for the Spartans. They mandated that helpless babies should die to save Spartan society from becoming ‘weak’…

Do I really need to spell it out? Any society that puts money and saving ‘the economy’ ahead of lives, no matter how much of a ‘drain’ those lives may be, is no better than the Spartans.

I used Sweden as the example in this post because the results of that country’s experiment have been so stark, but almost all of the countries of the First World have flirted, or are still flirting, with herd immunity…as a choice. Instead of saving lives while waiting for a vaccine to become available, they’ve chosen strategies that encourage herd immunity in the hope that their economies won’t suffer.

The reality, however, is that no country is near the magic number required for herd immunity to actually work. Not one. Meanwhile, the death toll rises.

So who is to blame?

The epidemiologists who recommended that governments aim for herd immunity?

Or the politicians who accepted those recommendations and went ahead with what amounts to involuntary, state sanctioned euthanasia?

Or are we, ultimately to blame?

Yes, us. The highest death tolls have so far occurred in prosperous, Western, democratic countries. That means we voted those politicians into power. Or maybe we just didn’t vote at all and allowed them in by default. Either way, we got the leaders we deserve.

Meeks

About acflory

I am the kind of person who always has to know why things are the way they are so my interests range from genetics and biology to politics and what makes people tick. For fun I play online mmorpgs, read, listen to a music, dance when I get the chance and landscape my rather large block. Work is writing. When a story I am working on is going well I'm on cloud nine. On bad days I go out and dig big holes... View all posts by acflory

37 responses to “The ethics of ‘herd immunity’

  • CarolCooks2

    It seems that way such a shame… Hugs x

    Liked by 1 person

  • CarolCooks2

    Reading all the comments has saddened me even more.. Swedens behaviour quite frankly horrifies me . I listen to people bleating about their rights and civil liberties but does that matter when you are dead. My heart aches for those starving will no option but to work and take a chance. No chances are being taken here although curfews have been lifted there is still a lot in place and it is generally accepted. A BLM march was planned here which discussed here at home and just knew no riots or looting would be allowed… It was taken a step further the next we heard was that the whole thing was conducted through Zoom… What a brilliant idea from a country who doesn’t always get it right but if it is peaceful and a statement of solidarity why not?

    Liked by 1 person

    • acflory

      You know my respect for Thailand just keeps going up and up. They’ve taken a massive hit to their tourism industry, and yet they’re just getting on with it, making do via low tech methods and, I assume, a sense of social responsibility.
      For a while I was worried that Japan would go the way of Sweden, but it hasn’t, and again it seems to be because the population is a) used to wearing masks and b) understands that social distancing is to save everybody.
      I think the West has a lot to learn about the balance between individual needs, wants and rights, and the needs, wants and rights of society as a whole. Of course society as a whole MUST include those who are most vulnerable. If not…. :/

      Liked by 1 person

  • MELewis

    I have mixed feelings about the lockdown strategy in general given the severe economic consequences which will cause lives to be lost due to hunger and poverty. BUT, having just watched Dr John’s interview with the Swedish GP, I am shocked by the inhumane treatment of the elderly and infirm patients in Sweden. I think there will be huge fall-out when the world hears about this cavalier approach… To refuse oxygen to people suffering from COVID is unbelievable. 😒

    Liked by 2 people

    • acflory

      Yes, I always thought the Swedes were one of the most progressive countries on Earth. Not any more. Curiously, some of the poorer countries are actually faring better than we are. Because they know they don’t have the technology etc, they’re relying on simple things like masks to keep the infection rates down. And it’s working. In the West we seem to have forgotten that freedom and prosperity come with responsibility. :/

      Liked by 1 person

  • Widdershins

    That video of John’s was quite horrific,in a strangely academic kind of way … like you I have very little faith in the human species to get its shit together. (I didn’t have a lot to begin with I have to admit) I think we’ve gone too far down the ‘me first and bugger everyone else’ road to change lanes, en masse, now. (individuals, yes, even groups … but the herd? No) … which ironically leaves it up to individuals to look after themselves first.
    On a more uplifting note, John’s video on dexamethasone – he was quite giddy! πŸ˜€

    Liked by 1 person

    • acflory

      Yes and yes. People like you and I and just about everybody /we/ know want a new, better normal after the dust settles, but most people just want the old normal back as soon as possible. Unfortunately, they [and everyone else] are in for some involuntary empathy as the reasonably-well-off-upwardly-mobile-newly-unemployed find themselves behind the poverty line for the first time.
      I’m not expecting much from altruism, but I do expect some self-interested outrage. Hopefully that will be enough to move us all in a /slightly/ better direction. Maybe.

      lol – yes, his enthusiasm was infectious, wasn’t it? 30% reduced death rate isn’t a miracle cure, but it’s a hell of a lot better than nothing. let’s hope John can get enthusiastic about something else as well, many something elses. πŸ™‚

      Liked by 2 people

  • Mick Canning

    Money trumps kindness, sadly.

    Liked by 2 people

  • Remembering Lives

    We were told that Maori people were terribly stricken with measles and many died. I am interested to read your perspective on here. I am a bit frustrated with people having no notion of how serious this is. I had a bit of a rant myself to a woman, who had obviously swallowed the propaganda. I found myself telling her, “You do realise that a thousand people a day are dying in the UK?” Fortunately it is a bit lower now. I find the apathy really annoying.

    Liked by 1 person

    • acflory

      I’m no historian but I believe all First Contact people suffered from the diseases brought by the invaders/settlers. As with Covid-19, they had no immunity to these diseases at all and dropped like flies. I believe measles is also incredibly infectious and can be deadly.
      Sadly a lot of people believe what they want to believe. For roughly 80% of the population, this pandemic has been a massive inconvenience caused by ‘people they’ll never know having the temerity to get sick and die’. They have no social conscience so as soon as the brakes are released, they’re off. 😦

      Liked by 2 people

  • Remembering Lives

    I was watching the same video yesterday. Like you, I realised that what is happening in Sweden with some vulnerable parts of the population, sounds like euthanasia. I note also that Sweden has seemed to embrace microchipping people. I was listening to Bjorn?from Abba talking about the situation in Sweden too. I note Dr John’s obvious concern about the US situation too. I find it potentially very worrying. Interestingly when Australia and New Zealand were colonized, I believe measles was particularly deadly to local populations. The message about vitamin D does not seem to be being noticed enough either. On the bright side, it does sound like a widely available steroid(?) Is significantly improving outcomes for seriously ill patients.

    Liked by 1 person

    • acflory

      Oh! I hadn’t heard of Sweden microchipping people. That’s bizarre. As for measles, we tend to think of measles and mumps as ‘just a kid’s disease’, but apparently measles is extremely infectious and can be quite deadly.
      Yes, I don’t understand why vitamin D is being ignored, yet a drug that only helps 35% of critically ill patients is being lauded. Yes, anything is better than nothing, and the fact that it’s readily available is an excellent point but, sadly it’s still not a miracle cure. 😦

      Liked by 1 person

  • robbiesinspiration

    An interesting post, Meeks. The first world countries may be different, but here in South Africa the economy has been shut down completely for 5 weeks and is now partially shut down. Our revenue collection agency announced on Monday that it is R430 billion behind on its tax collections this year to date. Government borrowed R550 billion to pay benefits to people who cannot work or earn during this period until September. There is no real relieve available to business in distress and no furloughing of salaries here. There are people starving and in desperate circumstances across the economic spectrum as no money is no money, regardless of your previous status. Our people are suffering and we are going to have mass poverty and starvation here. Our people are saying risk Covid-19 and probably recover or starve to death. Even first world countries have limited funds available. What happens when governments have to reduce benefits and maybe even pensions?

    Liked by 2 people

    • acflory

      You’re right, Robbie. In countries where people don’t eat if they don’t work, there are no good choices. That said, countries like Thailand have shown that social distancing and universal wearing of masks in public /can/ keep the virus at bay even though other, more expensive options are lacking.
      My problem is with my own democracy, and that of the UK, US, Europe, Russia etc. The conservative govt here in Australia started with a strategy of ‘herd immunity’ and chickened out, thank god. But now the federal govt is pushing hard to reopen despite ongoing community spread in some states, e.g. my own state of Victoria. We’re told we have to ‘save the economy’ despite the fact that this idiot govt miscalculated the cost of the lockdown by 60 billion $AUD. i.e. they estimated the cost to be double what it actually turned out to be.

      Sorry for the rant, still fuming. 😦

      Like

  • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

    The problem is that we have about 1% immunity now – survivors. There is a very long way to go before reaching 70-90% immunity – about 6.5 BILLION people would have to survive getting covid-19.

    That’s simply unrealistic, especially since about 10% would probably die, mostly among the vulnerable elders, chronically ill, and disabled. Statistics are horrible for those who end up need assistance breathing, if they get a ventilator (if it is not available, death ensues quickly) at all.

    People are not good with understanding this, and some are calling it fake news and deliberately flouting the most basic precautions.

    I’m staying in. For another year if that’s what it takes. And I hope my kids can manage to work from home (and the youngest get a job from home) during that whole year.

    We are not required to go out there and share the biosphere with people who are actively, by their behavior, trying to kill us.

    Liked by 2 people

    • acflory

      Well said, Alicia. My opinion of humanity is at an all time low. :/

      Like

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

        Humanity MUST be composed of people paying attention to their own self-interest – because nobody else has them in focus.

        I just wish they realized how ill-informed they are, and would not let themselves get taken further down the slope toward demagoguery. It has very bad results.

        But I can understand frustration – I have it myself – that keeps getting worse.

        Liked by 1 person

        • acflory

          Yes, you’re right, it is self-interest, but very short-sighted interest at best. Ever since the first rumblings against science began, I’ve been trying to understand a mindset that embraces the gadgets created as an offshoot of science, yet refuses to accept the science itself.
          I guess part of my frustration is that my Mother used to be like that too. Facts and logic meant nothing to her. Suffice to say I never, ever won an argument with her. Extend that mindset to a population at large and, frankly, it terrifies me.

          Like

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