Harvard doctor cautions on how we get to herd immunity

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — The World Health Organization has warned that the planet is nowhere near achieving herd immunity to coronavirus. A group of researchers, though, believes we may be close to it.

A Harvard doctor said that’s not necessarily a good thing because it all depends on how we get there.

Herd immunity is when a large part of the population is immune to a specific disease so it can’t keep spreading. It is typically achieved with the aid of vaccination or surviving the infection. Scientists have suggested that at least 70% of the population must have antibodies to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak.

Now, some researchers believe herd immunity may be closer than originally thought.

More than a dozen scientists told The New York Times the threshold is likely to be much lower, just 50%, perhaps even less. If so, then it may be possible to turn back the coronavirus more quickly than once thought.

“The headline is saying we may be closer to it than we think. So, I think the crucial thing is that if you are close to it you are close to it in some places not everywhere and that is the absolutely crucial thing,” said Doctor Bill Hanage.

Hanage is an associate professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. The million-dollar question for him and other researchers is how many people in a community must be immune before for the coronavirus fades? But he warns, though, getting to herd immunity should not be a goal since it can have dire consequences.

“If we can get to herd immunity with a vaccine that is a good thing. If we get there without one the cost is hundreds of thousands of people dead, many more than we have now,” Hanage said.

He also said places like Everett, Chelsea, and Revere, which have been hit hard by COVID-19, will have more immunity to the virus and that could be a big deal as we move into fall and winter when he believes transmissions likely pick-up again.

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