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Explained: What is herd immunity and why India is considered a candidate for it

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More than 3 million people have contracted coronavirus and upwards of 200,000 of them have succumbed to COVID-19, the disease resulting from the virus. The fatal virus has brought the world to a juddering halt with most countries across the globe in various stages of lockdown. Four months since its left Chinese shore, however, the world is still no closer to a vaccine against the virus.

Explained: What is herd immunity and why India is considered a candidate for it
More than 3 million people have contracted coronavirus and upwards of 200,000 of them have succumbed to COVID-19, the disease resulting from the virus. The fatal virus has brought the world to a juddering halt with most countries across the globe in various stages of lockdown. Four months since its left Chinese shore, however, the world is still no closer to a vaccine against the virus.
Moreover, experts suggest that the disease is here to stay and will keep coming in waves. The highly infectious nature of the virus has made it extremely difficult to contain, and with the likelihood of a vaccine a possibility too far into the future, experts have touted herd immunity as a possible measure against COVID-19.
Some have suggested that India with its young population to be an ideal place to try out herd immunity.
What is herd immunity?
Herd immunity is a population’s resistance against a contagious disease if a sufficiently high number of individuals are immune to the disease. It  is generally achieved through immunization.
Can there be herd immunity without vaccine?
In the absence of a vaccine for coronavirus, the premise of herd immunity hinges on the hope of populations living through the virus and developing natural immunity.
If a person recovers successfully from coronavirus, they are likely to have developed sufficient immunity to resist another attack. Similarly, if a large part of the population recovers from the infection, the virus finds it difficult to find and attach to new hosts and stops spreading. Ergo, the population becomes immune.
How dangerous is herd immunity?
Relying on allowing populations to get infected and live through it is as extreme and dangerous a premise as it sounds. COVID-19 has proven to be especially fatal for the older population as well as people with existing conditions. A majority of people in those two categories are unlikely to come out alive if they are infected.
Moreover, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that only about 2-3 percent of the global population appears to have antibodies, meaning they have been infected with COVID-19. The finding makes herd immunity a dangerous proposition.
Experts have suggested allowing younger people to become infected while isolating older population.
Has any country tried herd immunity?
The United Kingdom was talking about adopting herd immunity in the country before the disease ran rampant on the English Isle. It has caused more than 21,000 fatalities in the country and the talk of herd immunity in the country appears confined to the bin.
Notably, the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson had to spend a few days in intensive care unit due to CIVID-19 before he was discharged. That likely explains the about turn on herd immunity.
In the UK an estimated 60 percent of the population (40 million) would be needed to be infected to build herd immunity. The country’s renowned healthcare system, the National Health Service (NHS), has been stretched with dealing with coronavirus cases and it would be unlikely to deal with the disproportionate rise in cases if herd immunity were attempted.
Why India is being talked as a country suited for herd immunity?
Around 93.5 percent of India’s population is younger than 65, which according to experts, make it a good candidate to try herd immunity. One of the arguments for trying the method in India is the toll the lockdown is taking on the poor as well as the damage done by halting economic activity.
“No country can afford a prolonged period of lockdowns, and least of all a country like India,” Jayaprakash Muliyil, a prominent epidemiologist, was quoted as saying by Bloomberg. “You may be able to reach a point of herd immunity without infection really catching up with the elderly. And when the herd immunity reaches a sufficient number the outbreak will stop, and the elderly are also safe.”
The Bloomberg report estimates that unleashing a controlled spread of the virus until November will give 60 percent of the population immunity against the virus.
The possibility of fatalities remains very high with the herd immunity approach, but some experts contend that this strategy gives India the best chance to open up businesses by November.
However, there are additional problems for India’s youth which need to be accounted for. They are exposed to high pollution in Indian cities and have high rates of hypertension and diabetes, which compromise immune systems.
However, the Indian government has not indicated any plans to adopt herd immunity as a strategy against coronavirus.
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