Dr Soumya Swaminathan, the chief scientist at the World Health Organization, on Monday warned that herd immunity was highly unlikely this year even as various countries have started rolling out vaccination programs against the coronavirus. Herd immunity occurs when the majority of a population becomes immune to a disease through vaccinations or through the mass spread of a disease.
“Even as vaccines start protecting the most vulnerable, we’re not going to achieve any levels of population immunity or herd immunity in 2021,” Swaminathan said. “Even if it happens in a couple of pockets, in a few countries, it’s not going to protect people across the world.”
The chief scientist made the comments in an attempt to urge people to follow coronavirus-related guidelines. “The vaccines are going to come and go to all countries,” she said. “But meanwhile, we mustn’t forget that there are measures that work...It is really important to remind people, both the governments and individuals on the responsibilities and measures that we continue to need to practice, well for the rest of the year at least.”
She also lauded vaccine makers and countries for producing the doses in such short span of time.
Scientists estimate that a vaccination rate of about 70% is needed for developing herd immunity, according to AP. However, some have apprehensions that the extremely infectious nature of the coronavirus could need a higher threshold.
Meanwhile, Dr Bruce Aylward, an adviser to WHO’s Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, called on the global community to do more to ensure that all countries have access to the coronavirus vaccines. The United Nations-backed initiative known as COVAX, which aims to deliver inoculation shots to developing countries is short of vaccines, money and logistical help. Many donor countries, part of the programme are focusing to protect their own citizens, especially in the wake of newly-detected virus variants in Britain and South Africa.
WHO, however, said that the recent increase in cases were due to people socialising rather than the new variants. Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead on Covid-19, said that the surge in infections was reported before the new variants were discovered.
“We lost the battle because we changed our mixing patterns over the summer, into the fall and especially around Christmas and the new year,” she said. “That has had a direct impact on the exponential growth that you have seen in many countries.”
Globally, coronavirus infections surpassed 9.08 crore cases, while the toll from the disease climbed to 19.4 lakh, according to John Hopkins University. More than 5.02 crore people have recovered from the infection in the world.