Immune System and Immunity

What is the Herd Immunity? Herd Immunity and The Flu

Last updated on October 20th, 2022 at 07:42 am

What is herd immunity? It’s when enough people are vaccinated so that there are no more cases of disease. Learn the details about herd immunity here!

What is herd immunity?

A main reason doctors want as many people as possible to get a flu shot is that it protects more than just you. It also cuts the risk for your family, co-workers, and everyone else around you. When lots of people in an area are vaccinated, fewer people get sick. Then fewer germs are around to spread from person to person. This concept is called herd immunity, or community immunity.

The whole principle is if you give a vaccine to somebody, you protect them from getting infected, but you also prevent them from transmitting the disease to other people. Herd immunity protects people who can’t get vaccinated because their immune system is weak and vaccines might make them sick. This includes babies, people with vaccine allergies, and anyone with an immune-suppressing disease like HIV or cancer.

Herd Immunity and The Flu

Some vaccines are better at producing herd immunity than others. The measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine is 97% effective at preventing measles. So when lots of people in a community get this vaccine, protection rates stay high.

The flu vaccine is a little different. It’s only about 40% to 60% effective in any year. That’s because sometimes the virus strains in the vaccine don’t exactly match the virus that spreads. Even if the flu vaccine isn’t perfect, it’s still worth getting. In any one flu season, the flu vaccine prevents millions of people from getting the flu. That’s important when the people who don’t get the flu are around people who are over 65, or have other illnesses, or are young.

The flu vaccine is also good at protecting small groups of people, such as in your home, office, or school. When you get vaccinated, you help an older adult relative who has a chronic disease, or a baby who is too young to get vaccinated avoid getting sick. Vaccines are especially important for people who work in hospitals and other health care centers. The sick people they care for are more likely to get flu complications, and they need more protection.

Don’t rely on the herd

You might think, “If herd immunity protects me, why do I need to get vaccinated?” Vaccines are still the best way to protect yourself. And you may one day travel to a place where vaccine coverage isn’t so high. While herd immunity is an amazing benefit to having high vaccination coverage, direct protection if you can get vaccinated is the best way to protect your child and yourself from vaccine-preventable diseases.

Can herd immunity stop the coronavirus?

There are basically three ways to stop the Covid-19 disease for good. One involves extraordinary restrictions on free movement and assembly, as well as aggressive testing, to interrupt its transmission entirely. That may be impossible now that the virus is in over 100 countries. The second is a vaccine that could protect everyone, but it still needs to be developed. A third is potentially effective but horrible to consider: just wait until enough people get it.

If the virus keeps spreading, eventually so many people will have been infected and (if they survive) become immune that the outbreak will fizzle out on its own as the germ finds it harder and harder to find a susceptible host. This phenomenon is known as herd immunity.

The coronavirus is new, so it doesn’t appear that anyone is immune to it: that’s what lets it spread and why it can have such severe effects on some people. For herd immunity to take hold, people must become resistant after they are infected. That occurs with many germs: people who are infected and recover become resistant to getting that disease again, because their immune system is charged with antibodies able to defeat it.

To imagine how herd immunity works, think of coronavirus cases multiplying in a susceptible population this way: 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, and so on. But if half the people are immune, half of those infections won’t ever happen, and so the spreading speed is effectively cut in two.

The more infectious a virus is, the more people need to be immune to us to achieve herd immunity. Measles, one of the most easily transmitted diseases with an R0 over 12, requires about 90% of people to be resistant to unprotected people to get a free ride from the herd. That’s why recent outbreaks can start when even small numbers of people opt out of the measles vaccine.

Similarly, if the coronavirus spreads more easily than the experts think, more people will need to get it before herd immunity is reached. For an R0 of 3, for example, 66% of the population has to be immune before the effect kicks in, according to the simplest model.

The studies are still going on. (Source)

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