‘Herd immunity’ is not the solution to the pandemic, experts say

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INDIANAPOLIS — Doctors and healthcare experts working on the frontlines of the pandemic insist the idea of “herd immunity” is not the solution to end this pandemic. Physicians explain it depends on the virus to achieve herd immunity, but data shows people can catch COVID-19 again, though that is rare.

“Right now, it appears as though the natural immunity to the virus wears off after three months or so,” Dr. Christopher Doehring, Vice President of Medical Affairs at Franciscan Health said.

Besides not knowing how long a person is immune following a COVID-19 case, the healthcare systems could not handle an even greater spread of COVID-19.

“We’ve seen that this virus can spread far, and it can spread wide,” Kristen Kelley, Nursing Director of Infection Prevention at IU Health, said. “When that happens, our hospitals can easily become overwhelmed. We are all struggling right now as all the hospitals in the city are struggling with really high case volumes of COVID. It concerns us as medical professionals to think about what we would have to deal with and potentially see if this virus is just allowed to run amuck.”

For COVID-19, unlike other viruses, doctors do not know how much of the population needs to have immunity in order to achieve herd or population immunity.

“Traditionally we think somewhere between at least half to maybe 90% or more of a population needs to develop immunity in order to also accomplish herd immunity,” Doehring said.

But, Doehring said we are not even close to reaching that level. Experts again say that is not the goal at this point.

“Herd immunity is achieved by protecting people from a virus.” Kelley said. “It isn’t necessarily achieved by exposing everybody to it which can overwhelm the hospital systems and not allow us to care for folks.”

Kelley believes the vaccine will be the “end game for this.”

“We need the community to really hold tight with this, especially in the next 8 to 12 weeks,” Kelley said. COVID is set to get a lot worse. This virus is uncontrolled right now. The spread is fast, it is furious, and the rates are higher than we want to see. We are not through this yet. The good news is the light is at the end of the tunnel. We have to weather what is a couple tough months ahead of us. Then we will see a vaccine around the corner.”

In the meantime, she said masking is our best line of defense.

“We know that they work,” Kelley explained. “I know there’s folks that say there’s evidence that they don’t. I can tell you there’s great evidence to show that they do. I feel comfortable going into a COVID unit right now with my mask and then going home to my three boys.”

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