The head of the World Health Organization on Monday warned against deliberately allowing the coronavirus to spread in the hope of achieving herd immunity — calling the idea “simply unethical.”
“Never in the history of public health has herd immunity been used as a strategy for responding to an outbreak, let alone a pandemic,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom said during a media briefing.
Health officials typically aim to achieve herd immunity through vaccination, where “a population can be protected from a certain virus if a threshold of vaccination is reached,” Tedros explained.
For example, with a highly infectious disease such as measles, an estimated 95 percent of the population must be immunized in order for the remaining 5 percent to also be protected.
Some researchers have suggested that allowing COVID-19 to spread in populations that are less vulnerable to the disease would be a more realistic way to curb the outbreak than restrictive lockdowns.
But, Tedros said, “Herd immunity is achieved by protecting people from a virus, not by exposing them to it.”
So far, not enough is known about immunity to COVID-19 to say for sure whether herd immunity is even achievable, Tedros added.
“Allowing a dangerous virus that we don’t fully understand to run free is simply unethical,” he said.
While most people appear to develop some kind of immune response to the virus, it’s unclear how long that lasts or how robust that protection is.
There have also been documented cases of people becoming re-infected with the virus after recovering from an initial bout of the disease.
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