UW expert: Achieving herd immunity for coronavirus a ‘disastrous strategy’

Apr 20, 2020, 6:42 AM | Updated: 7:00 am

herd immunity, coronavirus...

A blood test is taken. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Without a vaccine for coronavirus, could herd immunity ultimately be what protects the population in the days ahead? According to one University of Washington professor, we should be skeptical of any such approach.

Understanding how researchers are predicting spread of coronavirus

UW biology professor Carl Bergstrom points a handful of factors that not only indicate herd immunity isn’t a viable solution, but also potentially a “disastrous” method of quelling the spread of the virus.

“Given the uncertainties we face around the degree and duration of acquired immunity, it is not even clear that one could reach herd immunity for (COVID-19),” he said on Twitter. “But even if one could, the cost in lives would be unacceptable.”

There’s still quite a bit we don’t know about the immunity of individuals who have recovered from the virus, with antibody blood testing only recently having begun ramping up. As for herd immunity, Bergstrom points out, there’s no way to achieve that without a sizable death toll among the population.

Overall, that makes it “a disastrous control strategy for this pandemic,” not just in death toll, but in a total number of infections that would far exceed what it takes achieve that kind of immunity.

“If herd immunity requires 60% of the population to be infected, you can’t just let the epidemic go unchecked and expect to suffer ‘only’ 60% infected,” he cautioned.

That’s due to a concept known as overshoot, “whereby an epidemic infects more people that are required for herd immunity.”

Nonprofits team up to supply hospitals, but need more help

Because of that, even in a model where almost two-thirds of the population gets infected, we can expect an even higher number of infections, since the virus doesn’t simply stop spreading altogether after reaching that threshold.

“It takes place because an epidemic has something akin to momentum, in the form of people who are already infected when you reach the herd immunity threshold,” Bergstrom described. “An epidemic couldn’t start anew from that place, but the current one can keep going.”

Between that and what would be a massive death toll, it’s a strategy that could have fatal consequences, he argues.

“The cost in lives makes this approach untenable,” Bergstrom concluded.

Local News

lawsuit wrongful death...

L.B. Gilbert

Family settles wrongful death lawsuit with Seattle for $1.8M

The family of a man who died of a heart attack after first responders delayed responding to the incident has reached a settlement in their wrongful death lawsuit with the City of Seattle.

21 minutes ago

(Photo from KIRO 7)...

Louie Tran, KIRO 7 News

Tacoma parents allege school workers physically assaulted children, including son with autism

A Tacoma mother and father accused workers with Tacoma Public Schools of physically assaulting their children multiple times, including the father’s son with autism.

41 minutes ago

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks during the introduction of the integration of Microsoft Bing sea...

Suman Naishadham, Associated Press

Microsoft CEO says unfair practices by Google led to its dominance as a search engine

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said Monday that unfair tactics used by Google led to its dominance as a search engine, tactics that in turn have thwarted his company’s rival program, Bing.

2 hours ago

(Photo from Washington State Department of Transportation)...

L.B. Gilbert

2 semis crash on I-5 early Tuesday, delaying morning commuters

Two crashes on northbound Interstate 5 have snarled traffic for Tuesday morning commuters as crews work to clear the semis.

2 hours ago

Image: The outside of Hard Rock Hotel is seen on April 14, 2023 in New York City....

Steve Coogan

Seattle’s Hard Rock Cafe to permanently close Dec. 1

A spokesperson confirmed to KIRO 7 the company is open to having another location in Seattle if the right one can be found.

12 hours ago

unsafe sleep...

Heather Bosch

19 infants died in Snohomish County from 2020-22 due to unsafe sleep

Snohomish county's child death review team found that many were preventable as most died from either suffocation or accidental strangulation.

14 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Swedish Cyberknife...

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

September is a busy month on the sports calendar and also holds a very special designation: Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.

Ziply Fiber...

Dan Miller

The truth about Gigs, Gs and other internet marketing jargon

If you’re confused by internet technologies and marketing jargon, you’re not alone. Here's how you can make an informed decision.

Education families...

Education that meets the needs of students, families

Washington Virtual Academies (WAVA) is a program of Omak School District that is a full-time online public school for students in grades K-12.

Emergency preparedness...

Emergency planning for the worst-case scenario

What would you do if you woke up in the middle of the night and heard an intruder in your kitchen? West Coast Armory North can help.

Innovative Education...

The Power of an Innovative Education

Parents and students in Washington state have the power to reimagine the K-12 educational experience through Insight School of Washington.

Medicare fraud...

If you’re on Medicare, you can help stop fraud!

Fraud costs Medicare an estimated $60 billion each year and ultimately raises the cost of health care for everyone.

UW expert: Achieving herd immunity for coronavirus a ‘disastrous strategy’