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Head of WHO says herd immunity strategies for COVID-19 are ‘unethical’

Published on 13/10/20 at 01:16pm

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director of the World Health Organization, has warned against pursuing a strategy of herd immunity to fight national COVID-19 outbreaks.

Herd immunity is a concept that is usually reserved for vaccinating a population against a virus or disease, but multiple countries have suggested throughout the pandemic that letting the virus spread throughout a population could help build up herd immunity. 

Tedros said: “Herd immunity is achieved by protecting people from a virus, not by exposing them to it. Never in the history of public health has herd immunity been used as a strategy for responding to an outbreak, let alone a pandemic.”

“Allowing a dangerous virus that we don’t fully understand to run free is simply unethical. It’s not an option.”

The concept of herd immunity in response to COVID-19 is also complicated by the fact it is not clear how strong the immune response is from the antibodies developed by people who have contracted the virus. Some people have been infected with the virus for a second time, and in a case of an American man from Nevada, his second infection was far more severe than the first. It is also estimated that 0.6% of people who contract coronavirus die, a higher rate than the flu. 

Conor Kavanagh

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