When the covid-19 news first came to the public, everyone thought it was no big deal. Well, the reality is proving that it is wrong. Also, since no one had immunity against this new virus, it was easy for the virus to spread. To stop this, a large number of people need to be immune to this virus. And that’s where herd immunity comes into the picture.
You can say that understanding what herd immunity is and how it can protect every one of us is the key to end this prolonged battle. This will help you understand why getting vaccinated is so important right now. So, without further ado, let’s jump into it!
What is it?
Also known as population immunity, it is a type of indirect protection that a non-immune person gets when most people in their population are immune to the disease. To put it simply, the spread of infectious diseases remains under control due to herd immunity.
Suppose 80% of the total population has immunity against a virus. So, 4 out of 5 persons will get the disease even if they contact a person who has the disease. Also, they cannot spread the disease further.
In the end, the disease is under control. This means that if you want the infection rate to decline, 50-90% of the total population needs to have immunity against the infectious disease. Of course, this estimate depends on how contagious the condition is. That’s why medical experts recommend mass vaccination and encourage people to get their vaccine shots.
Why is this important right now?
As we saw earlier, the higher number of people having immunity, the higher are the benefits. In the end, the protection is the individual who got their shots and the whole community.
The truth is, for a percentage of the population to spread the disease, they should be capable of catching the disease. This value is the threshold proportion that helps in determining the status of the spread. So, if the threshold value is less than the number of people immune to the virus, then its spread will start declining.
This value is not a constant value for all diseases. So, it differs from disease to disease. In a general sense, the higher the risk of infection is for a disease, the higher portion of people that need immunity to stop its spread.
For example, measles is one of the highly contagious and dangerous diseases known to man. But its chain of transmission got cut off because more than 94% of the population have immunity against it. Now, can you understand how strong herd immunity is to end this covid-19 battle?
Is this a new scientific concept?
The straightforward answer is – no! Perhaps you have heard about herd immunity when going through the latest covid-19 news. Many common and life-threatening diseases like polio and chickenpox became so rare because of herd immunity. You can only see these diseases in communities where there are fewer vaccines to prevent.
Even if a person has developed immunity due to infection, the disease can still spread to children and individuals with compromised immune systems. That’s why many diseases were so rampant during the pre-vaccine times.
The reason why immunity acquired from infections is not so great is that viruses keep mutating over time. So, the developed antibodies in the body can provide protection only for a short time. For covid-19 infection, a person who recovered from it will have immunity for six months to a year. So, this immunity from infections doesn’t last a person’s lifetime – which vaccines can provide to an individual.
How to achieve herd immunity?
Generally, there are two ways to achieve herd immunity against the covid-19 virus – infection by exposure and vaccination. Let’s take a closer look at both tracks for better understanding.
Herd immunity due to infection
If many people in the population got the infectious disease, then herd immunity is possible. Here, the individuals will have antibodies to fight the same infection in the future. But the downside of this is that people can have several complications due to the infections.
Plus, there are high chances for death to occur. After all, when the body comes in contact with a new virus, it will take some time to produce the necessary antibodies. Within that time, the virus would have already damaged the vital organs of the infected person leading to death.
Another downside is that the immunity that the person gets from infection is not lifelong. So, there are always chances for infections and complications that come along with it.
Herd immunity due to vaccination
Herd immunity is achievable for a population by using mass vaccination programs. A vaccine helps the body produce the needed antibodies to fight the covid-19 virus if a future infection occurs. Unlike the above type, there are no severe complications or deaths that can happen in this method.
The truth is, using this concept, scientists were able to beat life-threatening diseases like smallpox and rubella using vaccinations. The vaccinations used to prevent them could produce an effective herd immunity that the current generation does not even know the names of these diseases.
And the best part is that herd immunity protects those who cannot get vaccinated, like newborn babies and individuals having immune disorders
Understand what happens in a human body during an infection
Till now, you would have understood that vaccination is the best way to acquire herd immunity without complications. But to have a deeper understanding, you need first to understand what happens inside the body when a virus enters. For an easy experience, let’s say that a virus has different subparts present only in it.
That subpart can trigger the human body’s immune system to produce antibodies. Since the antibodies produced are the ones that fight the disease, you can say that they are the body’s soldiers. For every disease-causing microbes present in this world, your body can produce antibodies to fight it.
For the immune system to produce antibodies for infections that occur for the first time, it needs time. Depending on the disease, this detecting time of the immune system can become lethal to the person itself. That’s why many individuals died of the covid-19.
Once the body identifies and produces the proper antibodies, it will start killing the virus present inside the person. So, to cut down the time of identification by the immune system when the coronavirus enters the body, vaccines came into existence. Yes, vaccines can reduce the time for the immune system to understand the virus and quickly start killing it.
After vaccination, even if the original coronavirus enters the body, the immune system will have the defense ready. Indeed, it will kill and remove the virus without a trace in your body.
Why achieving herd immunity has a long way to go?
Since herd immunity depends on most people’s immunity against the disease and not on the medicines, it has a long way to go. To help you understand this, a person with measles can infect 18 people with that deadly disease. In this case, herd immunity is only possible if 95% total population has protection due to vaccination.
The good news is that the coronavirus has a very low infection rate compared to measles. So, on average, an infected individual can spread the virus to 2 or 3 individuals. You can achieve herd immunity for covid-19 when more than 60% of the total population has immunity to fight the virus.
As you read earlier, acquiring herd immunity through infection is not suitable for the person and the community. That’s why scientists recommend going for vaccines. Producing vaccines for the whole world’s population within a short time frame is challenging.
That’s why there is a deficit of vaccines even in high-income countries, which can slow down the herd immunity process. Hence, the lack of vaccines due to the vast population in demand is why it can be hard to get herd immunity quickly.
Basics of vaccines
In simple terms, vaccines are medicines that have inactive or weakened parts of the virus or bacteria to help the body’s immune system make antibodies. Some people feel that this can cause the disease. But that’s not true. The pathogen’s inactive or weakened part is in very low concentration in the dose that it cannot cause the disease. On the other hand, it can only trigger an individual’s immune system and make it ready when the true pathogen enters the body.
For long-term immunity, some vaccines may require frequent doses. This helps with the production of antibodies that live much longer. Also, regular doses help with the development of memory B cells which are highly necessary for lifelong immunity. These memory cells can remember a lot about the disease-causing pathogen. Even if the virus enters the body after 20 years, your immune system will know how to kill it without any delay.
Reasons why vaccine-driven herd immunity may face delay
In addition to the shortage in the production of vaccines, other reasons compromise the herd immunity of the population. Some of them are:
Hesitation among the public
Due to many misconceptions, many individuals view the vaccine as unsafe and are skeptical about its benefits. So, this leads to only fewer people getting vaccinated, which halts the herd immunity process. In the end, the disease keeps spreading and killing people who otherwise would not have occurred.
Unclear research results
Since the whole research on vaccines happened within a short timeframe, many questions about the safety of the vaccination procedure and how the vaccine works seem to be unclear to the untrained eye. Since the efficacy of these vaccines is low to the mutant types, people don’t want the vaccines even though they can save their lives.
Uneven distribution of vaccines
Not all countries have the vaccine right now. While some have a surplus of it, others are in shortage. So, this means one country will have herd immunity sooner than the other one. This can become problematic when people from different herd immunity statuses mix. Ultimately, this can cause another outbreak.
Can the covid-19 vaccine really help a person?
The coronavirus, the reason why many search for covid-19 news, is made of several viral particles. Each viral particle has protein spikes on it, which helps the virus to attach itself to cells. The virus comes into contact with humans and enters their bodies using these spikes. That’s how the virus causes the disease.
As you already know, there is a time lag between the virus entry and the production of the exemplary antibodies. To speed up this process, scientists made covid-19 vaccines. These vaccines can help the body to recognize the spike proteins present in the virus quickly. In the end, this saves the life of the person without further complications.
What about individuals who already got the virus and recovered?
Suppose a person got infected with this disease and recovered from it. The body will have natural immunity against the virus. Even though this can contribute to herd immunity, there is not sufficient data on this matter. The reason for data insufficiency on naturally acquired immunity is that the virus is entirely new. So, medical experts are not clear on how long this type of immunity can safeguard a person.
For this reason, scientists recommend that people who recovered from the disease get the vaccines and prevent the further spread of the coronavirus.
Types of covid-19 vaccines available
All the vaccines aim to give protection to an individual if they come into contact with the virus. To achieve this, experts developed different types of vaccines. The type of particles present in the vaccine which elicits the immune response is the main difference between the vaccine types.
Some of the different types of vaccines available to the public are:
These vaccines use RNA (a genetic code) to aid in the making of spike proteins, specifically the coronavirus. When this enters the cells in the human body, this code helps in producing only the spike protein of the virus. As you know, those spike proteins help the virus to attach itself to the cells.
But this doesn’t cause the disease covid-19. The immune cells quickly come into contact with these particles and produce the necessary antibodies to fight them. So, even if an actual virus does come, your immune system will know what to do.
And don’t worry, mRNA vaccines cannot change the DNA of a person. They can only produce proteins.
Unlike the first type, this type of vaccine has the protein itself in it. This is a non-infectious component of the virus, created in a lab by much research. Again, this cannot cause the disease but only triggers the person’s immune system. These vaccines train the immune system to detect the spike proteins should the real virus with the real spike proteins enter the body.
Vector vaccines have weakened and harmless viruses to elicit the immune response of the body. Once the vectors enter the body, it makes the cells produce spike proteins. Since the spike proteins are foreign to our immune system, they immediately start producing antibodies to fight it. These vaccine-induced antibodies are very specific in action because they kill only the virus that triggered the response.
Myths vs. Facts of covid-19 vaccines that you should know
On the internet, you will find many myths about the covid-19 vaccine. Because people pass this on without a clear understanding, this is discouraging many from getting vaccinated. To stop this, understanding the myths and facts about these vaccines can be a great help. Below are some of the popular myths present on the internet, along with the points to disprove them.
Myth 1: Since the vaccines were quickly developed, they are unsafe
There is no denying the truth that the vaccines for covid-19 got into production in a record time. But they were not exempt from the strict process outlined by the FDA about vaccine testing. This means that no step necessary for authorizing a vaccine was skipped during the development process. Truly, the huge collaboration and funding of different countries played a beautiful part in making a vaccine quickly.
Myth 2: DNA alteration occurs due to these vaccines
This myth got popular because of the misunderstanding with the working of mRNA vaccines. The mRNA of the virus is indeed present in the vaccine. They enter the body and produce proteins that mimic the presence of the virus. This helps the immune system to manufacture the antibodies to kill the virus itself.
But this mRNA can never touch the DNA of a human. Scientifically, it’s next to impossible for the mRNA to enter the cell’s nucleus and then damage the DNA. Also, once the mRNA produces the intended proteins, the body will automatically remove them.
Myth 3: There is a microchip in the vaccine to track the individual’s activity
A video claims that the vaccine has a microchip to track individuals personally. Some also believe that the government is backing this idea to know every move of their citizen. The truth is, it’s impossible to install a microchip into a person using a syringe. The needle of the syringe can only allow the vaccine dose and not the chip to flow through.
Myth 4: The side effects of the covid-19 vaccine is life-threatening
Side effects when vaccinated are not something new. Even other common vaccines show these reactions. Reactions like chills, headaches, and muscle pain are common reactions that anyone can experience, irrespective of the vaccine they take. So, you cannot say that only covid-19 vaccines cause this. For people who have a medical history of allergic reactions, it is best to consult a doctor before vaccination.
Myth 5: Can cause infertility in women
This has been on the internet for a long time. They seem to claim that the immune system can destroy a protein in the placenta called syncytin-1. If it does occur, then it can result in infertility. The fact is, the immune system does not attack this protein just because of the vaccine.
Myth 6: Recovered covid-19 patients don’t need the vaccine
As you read earlier, the natural immunity from the coronavirus infection does not last long. So, there is always a chance for a recovered patient to get sick again from the same virus. That’s why medical experts suggest going for vaccination to avoid the effects of reinfection.
Myth 7: Healthy individuals who don’t have any disease don’t need the vaccine
One of the main reasons health officials suggest mass vaccinations is to stop the spread of the virus. Whether the individual is quite healthy or not, getting vaccine shots will eliminate the spread of the virus. Plus, even if the vaccinated person gets the virus, he will not experience serious effects. The vaccine protects the individual, their family, and the community as a whole.
Myth 8: This vaccine increases the risk of getting sick from other diseases
There is no evidence to back this claim. A vaccine gives protection for a particular disease only. So, a vaccinated person always has a chance to get another disease if they didn’t take the vaccine for it.
Everyone will agree that it’s high time to put an end to covid-19 from spreading. And the best way to do it is through herd immunity by vaccinations. So, get your covid-19 vaccines as soon as possible!
Who does herd immunity protect?
It mainly protects those who are not immune to the infection like
People who cannot get the vaccine.
Who never had the disease.
Have a weak immune system.
Why is herd immunity popular now in covid-19 news?
No matter where you see, the recent covid-19 news is all about how dangerous and life-threatening this disease is. Already this disease has claimed millions of lives and still counting—the best way to stop it through herd immunity by vaccination. Help people to understand the seriousness of the issue; herd immunity has become a much-discussed topic everywhere.
Until herd immunity is achieved, what precautions should you follow?
For herd immunity to become a reality, it can take some time. So, until then, health experts recommend following guidelines to prevent the disease spread.
In public, wear a mask.
Maintain a safe distance.
Avoid large gatherings.
If you feel that you are sick, call your doctor at once.