Have you heard of herd immunity? It's a medical concept that's been around for a long time but is only now getting a little spotlight (thanks to the UK).
To ensure we are all on the same page about what it is, here’s the idea.
Herd immunity is when a large enough portion of a population is resistant to a disease that it creates "shared" protection for the rest of the population (who do not have resistance).
Don't worry, we'll break down this definition a little further and explain how it relates to the coronavirus.
Resistance & Protection
Immunity(EM-MUNE-EH-TEE) — Resistance to a disease after the immune system has successfully fought off the specific infection is the key.
Immunity is the ability to block, suppress, or resist foreign invaders (like infections) using our internal defense system. When a new invader enters our body, our immune system(EM-MUNE SIS-TEM) — A network of proteins and cells that work together to stop invaders from taking over the body and causing many problems doesn’t know how to fight the disease. Our immune system has to use a complicated trial and error process to find the right solution.
The good news is that once our immune system figures out the solution, the next time our body encounters the same infection, our body will immediately recognize the invader and take steps to eliminate it. Plus, during this second encounter, you probably won’t have any symptoms or only very minor ones like a little coughing or sneezing.
Why does this matter for the coronavirus? There is no herd immunity(HERD EM-MUNE-EH-TEE) — When a large enough portion of a population is resistant to a disease that it creates protection for the rest of the population!
No one has immunity to the coronavirus—and therefore no herd immunity. This is exactly why the coronavirus is such a huge problem. When someone comes in contact with this novel virus(VAI-RUS) — A foreign invader in the body that causes cells to function differently and can be spread to others through direct and indirect paths, their body has to start from scratch to find the key to beat it.
It can take time to fight the coronavirus. And, unfortunately, some patients develop severe symptoms with this specific strain of the coronavirus (COVID-19). Additionally, this disease is pretty contagious, making it easy to spread and an even bigger problem.
Herd Protection Comes with Numbers
What do coughing and sneezing have in common with each other? They are super easy ways to spread a virus. So, with less sneezing, you are now also far less likely to spread an infection. This creates protection for those around you.
But you’re only one person, and we come in contact with so many people on a normal, "non-quarantined" day. To create true protection, the number of people with immunity to a disease needs to grow. That way there are fewer people to spread the disease.
If everyone around you is immune to something, there is no one left to give it to you. They have essentially created immunity for you. The herd is protected! And, if the virus does not spread, eventually it will fizzle out.
Luckily, we don't always have to rely on just our own immune system to gain immunity. Traditionally, herd immunity is accomplished through vaccination. If a safe, proven vaccine(VAX-ZEEN) — A treatment used to teach your immune system how to recognize certain foreign invaders and prevent disease is available, we can use it to create herd immunity. For example, we use vaccines for influenza(IN-FLEW-EN-ZAH) — A viral infection that causes a fever and severe aching every year to help create this immunity.
How do we get herd immunity for the coronavirus?
Fortunately (or unfortunately), at this point, not enough people have contracted the coronavirus for there to be herd immunity. However, as the number of people who do get sick and recover (gaining immunity) from the virus increases or a successful vaccine is developed (the hope), our overall herd immunity will also increase. Fingers crossed!
Since it's going to take time to acquire herd immunity, here's the best way to deal with the coronavirus: slowing the spread.
We need to keep up our social distancing(SOW-SHL DIST-ANCE-ING) — Intentionally increasing the space between people to prevent the spread of a disease (6 feet), isolation(EYE-SOW-LAY-SHUN) — Imposed separation from other people to eliminate transmission of an infection via touch or air transfer, self-quarantinesA person's choice to avoid any direct or indirect contact with others to try to prevent the spread of a disease, and staying at home. These physical interventions limit the spread of the disease, providing protection for the herd through avoidance. Slowing the spread will give our medical community more time to develop a vaccine and reduce the pressure on our overloaded health systems (flattening the curve).