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:
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.
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.