Why isn't "herd immunity" ridding us of the pandemic now? Op-Ed by Ala Tocarciuc

«Achieving "herd immunity" in this pandemic will not be easy. At least not as easy and not as fast as originally intended. But this goal will certainly be achieved.! .."

Since the beginning of this pandemic, so-called "herd immunity" has been talked about as a turning point in stopping the spread of the virus.

What is "herd immunity"?

Herd or group immunity describes the moment when a population is immune enough to a disease to prevent its spread. Researchers at the University of Manchester first used the term in 1923 to describe how an entire herd of animals (in their case, mice) can become immune to the disease, even if not all members of the herd have been immunized.

Widespread vaccination is the most reliable way to quickly get "herd immunity"

Looking back at the big public health success stories in vaccination: smallpox and polio, both diseases have been eradicated entirely through massive, sustainable vaccination programs with simple, highly effective vaccines, we can assume that a safe and effective vaccine will also help us in the current pandemic to achieve "herd immunity" and stop the spread of the virus. "Herd immunity" can be achieved by vaccinating 70% of the population. That was the mindset when COVID-19 vaccines began to be developed.

After reading the genome of the novel coronavirus and understanding its structure, several manufacturing companies have begun to develop vaccines against COVID-19. Since it has already been established that the virus attaches to the cells of the human body through the binds of the spike protein, it was suggested that these sequences of spike protein can be brought into the human body by a carrier of mRNA, for example, and the human body will produce antibodies against this protein, which will subsequently also protect against the virus. MRNA technologies have been developed for several years to produce vaccines against the Ebola virus and Zika virus. The vehicle was virtually ready and was tested in several clinical trials, including humans. The sequence of the spike protein had to be placed on this carrier, and the effectiveness of the new vaccine had to be proven in clinical trials.

At the moment of this writing, more than 4 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered worldwide. I don't think there's another drug in the world that has been administered to so many people in such a short period of time. This directly confirms humanity's desire to stop the pandemic. Indirectly, this fact tells us that these vaccines are safe and effective, and this is a kind of revolution in the production of vaccines.

Many countries have made considerable efforts to achieve the original goal of the vaccination campaign, namely, to vaccinate 70 per cent of the population by a certain date. Some countries, such as Israel, the UK, and others, are very close to achieving these goals. More recently, it made sense to create a third dose of vaccine to boost immunity and maintain sufficient levels of antibodies to cope with a new strain of the virus. Germany and Israel have already announced formal decisions on high-risk populations eligible for a third dose of the vaccine.

Primary assumptions and end results sometimes differ

It's important to understand that a lot of work is being done in this pandemic based on experiments. An assumption is made, a concept is developed, based on this assumption, some endpoints are set, and many processes are performed to achieve them.

There was, for example, the assumption that if we do not allow the virus to cling to the human body, we would protect the body from the disease. Based on this assumption, several vaccines have been developed. But the virus changed its spikes with spike protein, which were recognized by antibodies, and with new spikes, it again easily clings to the cells of the human body. After the introduction of the first vaccines, stable immunity to the original models of the virus is developed. New strains require a new vaccine. This new vaccine will be the third dose. This will be probably an old vehicle with a new sequence of viral spike protein.

More recently, it has become clear that we need drugs to stop the virus from replicating or multiplying in the body. If we cannot stop the virus from entering the body, we can change our goals to stop its replication and prevent disease. This is a new direction where intensive work is being carried out.

Another assumption was that if we vaccinate 70% of the population, we will reach "herd immunity" faster. New strains have also upended this assumption.

There has also been an assumption that if you go through an illness, you are protected from a new infection with antibodies for at least 6 months. However, we have seen many cases of recurring illnesses and re-infections in the community.

Collective intelligence gives rise to many assumptions and axioms. Some of them are working great and helping us keep the pandemic under control. Others are compromised by the development of a virus or science. These are still elements of the stage of evolution that cannot be circumvented now. It is good to recognize that a person can be wrong in everything, including in his assumptions. Some of them are solved by adaptation, flexibility, new models of thinking, learning, including on their own mistakes.

Why don't we achieve "herd immunity"?

"Herd immunity" in this pandemic seems to be turning into a goal that is difficult to achieve for several reasons.

First, there is a high level of reluctance to vaccination in many countries. Second, poor countries do not have sufficient vaccine stocks. The success of vaccination campaigns is constantly threatened by the flow of information about new strains, the increase in the number of cases, including between those vaccinated, the resistance of new strains to approved vaccines and many others. The speed of dissemination of this information through social networks is extremely high. Their misinterpretation causes serious damage to the vaccination campaign, respectively, prevents the community from achieving the desired "herd immunity". Methods of introducing mandatory vaccination are categorically rejected in several countries. The application of bans by restricting the access of unvaccinated people to public places also generates numerous protests.

How to achieve “herd immunity” in this pandemic?

Achieving "herd immunity" in a pandemic will not be easy. At least not as easy and not as fast as originally intended. But this goal will certainly be achieved!

The surest way is cooperation and human solidarity. The big ones help the little ones with vaccines. The rich ones support the science instead of the poor. Those who have studied explain to those who have no education why vaccination is important. The braves take the hand of the fearful and bring them to the vaccination room. Only in this way can we reach a day free of the pandemic and free of the obligation to wear a mask. We will again be able to enjoy the opportunity to hug our loved ones and shake our hands. 

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