Battling COVID-19: Herd Immunity and its alternatives

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Recently, there have been many talks on mainstream media and social media platforms regarding various methods that might prove to be useful in battling the COVID-19 pandemic.

Viruses are microcellular organisms that are ever-changing and constantly evolving. There was once a time when diseases like dengue and malaria used to be incurable and fatal.

But, the introduction of antiviral and antibiotic medication helped greatly curb their mortality ratio.

However, it has become increasingly evident that those microcellular organisms are constantly increasing their immunity to these medications.

As long as we keep on researching and improving these medications at a pace faster than the evolution of mainstream viruses, we can keep them under control.

But, things go awry when novel virus strains enter the society. Such novel virus strains include the Plague, Black Death, SARS, MERS and Coronavirus.

Since the genetic code of novel viruses is completely different from the mainstream viruses, normal medication generally has negligible to no effect on them.

Therefore, their propagation in the society calls for uncommon β€” and, sometimes, drastic β€” measures. Herd Immunity is one such measure.

What is Herd Immunity?

According to Oxford Dictionaries, β€˜Herd Immunity is the resistance to the spread of a contagious disease within a population that results if a sufficiently high proportion of individuals are immune to the disease.’

In other words, Herd Immunity is a method of tackling contagious diseases by generating immunity, in a majority portion of the population, towards a contagious disease. The majority, in this case, refers to at least 60-70% of the total population.

The approach, which Herd Immunity uses to curb the spread of a contagious disease, is to break its chain of propagation by reducing the number of carriers. The number of carriers of a virus will naturally decrease as more people become immune to it.

Why is Herd Immunity not viable at this stage of the COVID-19 pandemic?

The reason why Herd Immunity is considered to be an extreme measure against COVID-19 is that, for developing virus-specific immunity on such a large scale, a huge portion of the population will have to first be infected with the virus.

If the contagion gets out of hand after going through with this plan of action, the repercussions will be severe.

Therefore, herd immunity is not a viable option to be sought after at this stage of the COVID-19 pandemic since the risk is not worth the reward.

Other Alternatives to Herd Immunity:

Although the method of being infected and recovering from the Coronavirus is not a wise choice to make, there are other methods to achieve herd immunity.

For instance, mass immunisation can be artificially induced through vaccination or techniques like plasma infusion.

The plasma used in the plasma infusion procedure is obtained from the blood of Coronavirus-positive patients that have developed immunity against the virus during the process of their recovery.

However, these options are both currently in the research phase and it is anybody’s guess as to how long it will take to draw upon any useful results.

The time required for mass production and administration of the vaccine/plasma infusion on a scale large enough to achieve herd immunity is a whole another matter.

The most optimistic estimates state that the vaccine will require about 12-18 months to be developed. Coupled with the time required for mass production and global circulation, it can easily take 2 to 3 years to vaccinate the global populace.

Situation and Preparations of India amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic:

The highest single-day spike in newly-registered COVID-19 cases in India was recorded on June 5, 2020, coinciding with the initiation of the first stage of ‘Unlock’.

The number of new cases recorded in India on June 5 was 9,851, thereby, bringing the national total of COVID-19 cases up to 2,26,770 with new cases being registered daily.

These numbers place India at the 9th position on the list of the countries hardest struck by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research has formulated a five-pronged plan to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

The facets it will be focusing on are surveillance, diagnosis, development of intervention therapies, hospital assistive services and supply chain model.

Besides that, the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research is also developing monoclonal antibodies and an immunity-boosting vaccine.

Adapting to the COVID-19 Lifestyle:

Experts are worried about the probability of the Coronavirus flaring up again once the lockdown is removed as it has played the most crucial role by far in breaking the COVID-19 carrier chain.

Another worry of the experts is that the virus might mutate and become an endemic disease β€” i.e. a disease that returns every year β€” like malaria and dengue do in India.

If such a scenario occurs, active testing and periodic restrictions will be essential in curbing the propagation of the virus and reduce the chances of the occurrence of another outbreak.

Therefore, depending on the situation and the events that are to follow, it will be highly advisable for people to not let their guard down and be prepared to adapt to the changes that the future holds. Let us unite in being prudent and optimistic. We will overcome this tribulation just like we did all previous ones, together.

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