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Read our message to patients about Coronavirus (COVID-19)

What Is The Connection Between Herd Immunity And Vaccines?

July 9, 2020

A recent study published in the medical journal the Lancet found that just 5% of Spain's population has developed coronavirus antibodies. Researchers say the findings strengthen the evidence that a so-called herd immunity or “community immunity” to COVID-19 is unattainable without a vaccine. 

Based on the findings, 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 people are vaccinated against it — to stop its circulation.

Vaccines play an important role in keeping us healthy. They protect us from serious and sometimes deadly diseases such as influenza, measles, polio and more. But what is the connection between herd immunity and vaccines? 

What is herd immunity?

When most of a population is immune to an infectious disease, this provides indirect protection — or herd immunity to those who are not immune to the disease. 

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University explain how herd immunity works: If 80% of a population is immune to a virus, 4 out of 5 people who encounter someone with the disease won’t get sick (and won’t spread the disease any further). In this way, the spread of infectious diseases is kept under control. Depending on how contagious infection is, usually, 70% to 90% of a population needs immunity to achieve herd immunity.

So, how do you achieve herd immunity? There are two ways: A large proportion of the population either gets infected or gets a protective vaccine. 

What Is A Vaccine?

Researchers with the United States Department of Health and Human Services states that a vaccine is made from very small amounts of weak or dead germs that can cause diseases, like viruses, bacteria or toxins. Vaccination prepares your body to fight the disease faster and more effectively so you won’t get sick.

In other words, germs can travel quickly through a community and make a lot of people sick. If enough people get sick, it can lead to an outbreak. But when enough people are vaccinated against a certain disease, the germs can’t travel as easily from person to person — and the entire community is less likely to get the disease.

Getting Sick Is Not The Answer

So, there are some people who think getting infected with coronavirus just to “get it over with” is a good idea. But it’s not. At least not in this case. 

COVID-19 carries a much higher risk of severe disease and even death. In fact, the most recent data (on the coronavirus death rate) suggests it is 10 times higher than the flu.

And you can’t rely on a prior infection to protect you. Other viruses (like the flu) mutate over time, so antibodies from a previous infection provide protection for only a short period of time. For the flu, this is less than a year. 

A study in the Cambridge University Press explains this in much greater detail, but if SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is like other coronaviruses that currently infect humans, you can expect that those who get infected will be immune for months to years, but probably not their entire lives. It's not clear how long or how well antibodies protect people from the virus.

What You Can Do

Scientists are working to develop an effective vaccine for coronavirus. In the meantime, to prevent explosive outbreaks, physical distancing measures and mask-wearing will be needed.

The physical distancing measures needed may vary over time as infection rates rise and fall. Researchers say you can expect some level of continued physical distancing for an extended period, likely a year or longer, before a highly effective vaccine can be developed, tested and mass-produced.

You can also talk to your doctor to find out what else you can do to decrease your risk. For your protection and the protection of others, all North Ohio Heart/Ohio Medical Group providers will wear a mask while caring for you. That’s in addition to the other precautions we are taking

Patients are also required to wear a mask or cloth face covering when they come to the office. Please make every effort to comply with this important safety measure. If you’re uncomfortable coming into the office, you can speak to your doctor about coronavirus and other health issues you may be having during a telehealth visit from the comfort of your own home.

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