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Why the idea of herd immunity is extremely dangerous for COVID-19

By Shaniqua Williams

Posted on March 21st, 2020

Herd immunity is the concept that high-risk individuals can be protected in case of dangerous infections if they are surrounded by enough people who develop immunity. This type of immunity has already been formed for viruses such as influenza, but it's a different situation with the novel coronavirus.

This concept comes into the discussion when thinking about vaccines because if a high number of persons in a community are vaccinated they will protect the there and help significantly diminish the number of cases. While this is something that functions with various strains of viruses such as influenza or measles, it can't function (at least for the time being) in the case of COVID-19. The issue with this new strand of coronavirus is exactly that: it's new. It has never been spread amongst people, which means that everyone can get infected. Unfortunately, as there is no vaccine, the only other way that herd immunity can be achieved is if enough people get infected, recover, and therefore develop natural immunity against it. A rough estimate suggests that we could reach herd immunity when and if approximately 60% of the population gets immune.

It's very difficult to estimate what would be the cost of human life in this scenario, and that is exactly why it's extremely dangerous to take it into account. This subject has sparked quite the controversy as some of the EU countries have declared that they would consider it. Health officials have strongly advised against it considering that the long term effects of COVID-19 are not yet known and that while it's true that most of the people will surpass it, relying on this type of strategy would be not only unethical but also fatal for the elderly or people with pre-existing conditions.

What is the group with the highest risk of complications

As the number of cases in the U.S continues to go up, it's important to understand who is most at risk and how they can protect themselves as well as how we as a community can help. It's no secret that there have been two groups identified as high-risk for serious pulmonary complications as well as the possibility of death: adults over the age of 60 and individuals with underlying health conditions.

In the case of the elderly, this happens because the immune system tends to decline with age, thus making any kind of infection more difficult to surpass. The number of white blood cells that help eliminate infections can decline and become less vigilant in identifying new pathogens. Aside from it, it's also more likely that people over the age of 60 already suffer from at least one other chronic disease which again, makes fighting off infections much harder.

Having one or more underlying health conditions can create severe complications and endanger the lives of those who get infected with the novel coronavirus. Some of the conditions that can put individuals at great risk are the following:

  • Lung Diseases
  • Heart Diseases
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic kidney and liver diseases
  • Compromised immune system (people undergoing cancer treatment, or with autoimmune diseases)
  • Blood disorders

Heart and lung disease are a general term that describes a number of different illnesses that can affect those organs. Heart disease can include arrhythmias, congenital heart defects, or diseases that involve narrowed or blocked blood vessels. Lung diseases refer to asthma, COPD, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, cystic fibrosis, or pulmonary edema, among others.

How can vulnerable people protect themselves

Realizing that herd immunity is an extremely dangerous idea for those who are at high risk, one of the most important and efficient measures is going the opposite way with social distancing. In the case of people that are over 70 and suffer from chronic diseases, it is recommended to go the extra mile and self-isolate. This means staying at home, avoiding public transportation or crowded places, and if possible, having others help with buying food and other essentials.

There are also hygiene measures that caregivers or other family members can take to protect those who are most vulnerable:

  • Constantly washing your hands
  • Keeping a distance of two meters from the person you care for, or if you need to get close, wear a mask
  • If you feel unwell, make arrangements for someone else to offer your loved one the support needed
  • Make sure they are well informed on what they should do to protect themselves

We offer support to those who developed chronic diseases due to occupational exposure to asbestos

People who were occupationally exposed to asbestos may develop serious respiratory diseases which can make the infection with the novel coronavirus fatal. If you know that you have been potentially exposed, you need to regularly check up on your health, as early detection can, in some cases, be life-saving.

Our staff, toxicologists, and medical experts offer free of charge local asbestos screenings to victims and their families. You must have a history of asbestos exposure through your workplace or the military or you must have lived with someone that brought asbestos fibers home on their clothes and hair, subsequently getting a family member sick. We will examine your chest X-rays to see the number of asbestos fibers existent in your lungs, along with a series of other pulmonary tests, while considering your overall medical and employment history to determine compensation eligibility.

We offer legal representation for those exposed to asbestos and other toxins in an occupational setting and we work hard to obtain maximum compensation for them and their family members.