COVID-19 Vocabulary #5: Herd Immunity

The continual use of the term “herd immunity” in the media has been troublesome. Not being a farm girl, I have been unfamiliar throughout my life with the discussion of herds and what happens to the group as a whole.

According to http://www.mayoclinic.org, herd immunity occurs when a large portion of a community, in this case, a herd, becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. As a result, the whole community becomes protected.

The debate within the COVID-19 experts relies on competing epidemiologists determining if there is sustained immunity after contracting COVID and how is immunity achieved…is this achieved through exposure across a large portion of the population or a vaccine? If 60% of the population is immune to the virus, then three out of every five exposed people won’t get sick. But should this virus require a higher level of immunity to determine a safe level and declare the virus under control? COVID-19 is highly contagious, and therefore a much higher level may be necessary, particularly in combination with the flu. The most recent estimate for the United States’ level of immunity to COVID-19 is 10%.

Health experts have little experience with this virus, unlike polio, mumps, and measles, once very common but now relatively rare in the United States. Vaccines were essential in establishing herd immunity, particularly in communities with lower vaccine rates and more significant vulnerabilities. Many vaccines, such as the flu, have short periods of immunity, sometimes as little as 3 to 6 months.

The risks of COVID-19 represent a more significant factor for life and long-term neurological and physical disabilities.

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