What Role Does Herd Immunity Play in a Pandemic?

 What Role Does Herd Immunity Play in a Pandemic?

2020 began with an unknown disease termed as ‘novel coronavirus’ (COVID-19). Although the first half of the year is over and the virus has affected millions across the globe, there are still several questions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the last six months, almost every country in the world was under lockdown, intending to limit the spread of this virus.

With vaccines still several months away, governments all over the world are hoping that herd immunity would help curb the transmission of this infection.

What is herd immunity?

Like several other viruses, coronavirus transmits through person-to-person contact. Herd immunity occurs when the majority of the population achieves immunity against the disease, which limits the transmission of the virus. Therefore, this results in the protection of the entire community and not only those individuals who are immune.

A certain percentage of the population needs to get an infection for it to spread. This population is the threshold proportion. If the percentage of the population, which is immune, is higher than this threshold, it will help to curb the spread of the virus. The term for this is ‘herd immunity threshold’.

Pros and cons of herd immunity

Herd immunity has its advantages and disadvantages; however, there is no conclusive proof that it will help in eradicating the current pandemic. The biggest plus point is that herd immunity is beneficial to give a respite to the transmission of the virus. However, a major drawback is the risk of losing lives by allowing economic activities to resume, which may increase the number of positive cases.

Will the strategy work for India?

The percentage of people who need immunity varies from one disease to another. Generally, if an infection is contagious, a higher number of people must become immune for this strategy to work. Here are three reasons why it may not be effective in India:

  1. There is not much information available on the longevity of immunity against coronavirus. Additionally, there is no scientific evidence about the risk of reinfection.
  2. There is an assumption that as the country has a large population of youth, these people may not have severe symptoms of coronavirus. However, several young adults have underlying conditions, which increase the risk of complications and demise.
  3. Herd immunity needs to be combined with factors like ramping the healthcare system, social distancing, mandatory use of masks, and bans on public gatherings.

Health insurance to fight COVID-19

Treatment costs for coronavirus are huge, and health policy for COVID-19 is beneficial to cope with these. While a regular mediclaim pays for the hospitalization-related expenses, COVID-19 treatment uses several consumables, such as gloves, masks, and other protective gears. Special coronavirus health insurance plans cover these expenses.

According to the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI), insurers may offer short-term policies up to INR 2.5 lakh to treat the novel coronavirus. These medical insurance plans are available for less than 12 months. Every individual must avail of this policy to financially protect themselves from the hospitalization and treatment costs, in the case of a positive diagnosis.

Michael Burden