Concept of herd immunity may be counterproductive, say experts

Published September 10, 2021
In this file photo, women shop at a market after the government eased the lockdown imposed as a preventive measure against the coronavirus in Rawalpindi. — AFP/File
In this file photo, women shop at a market after the government eased the lockdown imposed as a preventive measure against the coronavirus in Rawalpindi. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: While health authorities have decided to administer Covid-19 vaccines to over 70 million Pakistanis by the end of the year to achieve herd immunity, some experts believe the concept of collective immunity can prove counterproductive as many people may stop following the standard operating procedures (SOPs) involved.

On Thursday, meanwhile, as many as 4,062 people were found to be infected with Covid-19 and 84 persons lost their lives. The total number of active cases, therefore, reached 91,589.

Dr Hasan Urooj, a public health expert who has been treating people infected with coronavirus in Islamabad, said that herd immunity was technically impossible to achieve in the urban areas of Pakistan.

“Herd immunity is only possible in an ideal environment, where people don’t move frequently in and out of a certain area. However, here [the federal capital] a large number of people work in urban areas but they reside in rural areas.

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“Moreover when we say that in a city, such as Islamabad and Karachi, a certain percentage of people have been vaccinated, it does not mean that the city’s residents have been vaccinated as people who come from outside [to work] also get vaccinated simultaneously,” he said.

“In other words, we can never say [with certainty] that 40 per cent or 50pc residents of a city have been vaccinated. People of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Azad Jammu and Kashmir and other areas come to Islamabad to work, so it can never be said that over 70pc population of the city has been vaccinated,” he said.

“Also, new variants are a major threat to herd immunity as all vaccines can become ineffective against them.”

Dr Urooj was of the opinion that the terms “herd immunity” make people complacent towards non-pharmaceutical interventions aimed at controlling the Covid-19 pandemic.

“If we are moving towards achieving herd immunity, why are so many smart lockdowns being enforced? We have also observed that the vaccines are less effective against Indian and UK variants. We should stop using the words ‘herd immunity’ because people will stop following the SOPs,” Dr Urooj added.

An official of the federal health ministry agreed that using the words “herd immunity” was tricky and people could stop taking precautionary steps in case they became complacent due to them.

Prof Dr Javaid Usman, a senior microbiologist, said the words “herd immunity” had been replaced with the terms “community immunity”.

“Virus stops circulating when 70pc people are vaccinated against it. Also, slight variations [in strains] do not matter much. Almost all Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers have claimed that their vaccines are effective against new variants,” he said.

“Moreover, cases are not increasing exponentially, rather they get decreased whenever lockdowns are imposed. There are only two ways to achieve immunity; one is to get vaccinated and second is to follow the SOPs,” he said.

Prof Usman was of the opinion that it was very unlikely to have a strain against which vaccines would become completely ineffective.

‘Booster certificates’

While some people are still facing difficulties in getting certificates for booster shots, an official of the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) said that people can get the certificates from the authority’s website.

“We have been issuing certificates as per directives of the NCOC. People, who intend to travel abroad, are suggested to pay the amount of Rs1,270 in National Bank. There are selected vaccination centres across the country where they can get the booster shots.

“Their voucher numbers are also entered with the data and as soon as the data is received in Nadra, it is updated,” he said.

According to a statement issued by the World Health Organisation, only 20pc of people in low- and lower middle-income countries have received a first dose of vaccine compared to 80pc in high- and upper middle-income countries.

Published in Dawn, September 10th, 2021

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