For those who believe that herd immunity is the best approach to tackling COVID-19, Sweden has been something of a case study.
Towards the end of May, the country’s approach didn’t really appear to be working out, with Sweden’s death toll per million far exceeding those of Denmark, Finland, and Norway.
Then, last week, Sweden’s prime minister ordered an inquiry into the decision not to impose a coronavirus lockdown, admitting that the country’s handling had exposed Sweden’s “shortcomings”.
Still, many believe that herd immunity is the correct approach, and they won’t like the findings from Spain’s large-scale study on the coronavirus.
[The study] indicates just 5% of its population has developed antibodies, strengthening evidence that a so-called herd immunity to Covid-19 is “unachievable,” the medical journal the Lancet reported on Monday.
The findings show that 95% of Spain’s population remains susceptible to the virus. Herd immunity is achieved when enough of a population has become infected with a virus or bacteria — or vaccinated against it — to stop its circulation.
The European Center for Disease Control told CNN that Spain’s research, on a nationwide representative sample of more than 61,000 participants, appears to be the largest study to date among a dozen serological studies on the coronavirus undertaken by European nations.
Spain provides an interesting case study, with more than 28 000 COVID-19 deaths and 250 000 cases thus far.
In a damning indictment of countries that have adopted this approach, and as a warning to those who may consider the approach going forward, Isabella Eckerle, head of the Geneva Centre for Emerging Viral Diseases, and Benjamin Meyer, a virologist at the University of Geneva. said that “any proposed approach to achieve herd immunity through natural infection is not only highly unethical, but also unachievable”.
Unethical, and unachievable.
A similar antibody study was carried out in Geneva, Switzerland, recently, involving 2 766 participants, and the antibody prevalence was just over 10%.
The report went on to say that “herd immunity is difficult to achieve without accepting the collateral damage of many deaths in the susceptible population and overburdening of health systems”.
Some scientists argue that in order to achieve herd immunity, you only need around 60% of seroprevalence (the level of a pathogen in a population, as measured in blood serum), but even with that lowered threshold, Spain falls well short.
Taking the very low antibody prevalence numbers into consideration, the authors of the Spanish study concluded that “with a large majority of the population being infection naïve, virus circulation can quickly return to early pandemic dimensions in a second wave once measures are lifted”.
As South Africa surges past the 200 000 confirmed coronavirus cases mark, it’s just another reminder that we are in this for the long haul.
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