During the early months of 2020, a new virus called SARS-CoV-2 or the coronavirus began infecting individuals in China’s Wuhan region. The new virus quickly turned into a silent but deadly force that quickly swept across the globe and began to destroy life as we know it. In reaction to the outbreak, schools and universities began to shut down, and there were enforced lockdowns of entire cities and countries. By mid-March, the world seemingly changed overnight as the coronavirus outbreak turned into a global pandemic, putting millions at risk, especially cohorts such as the elderly and diabetics who can easily develop signs of disease ranging from mild fever to pneumonia, from the novel virus, COVID-19. The attempts to limit the world’s exposure to coronavirus has led to mass quarantines, encapsulating the world inside their homes and away from the violent clutches of the coronavirus. However, almost six months into quarantine, the world is growing tired of a closed society and wonders when it will end?
In an article from the Journal of Infection, a group of epidemiologists associated with The University of Leicester and The Chinese University of Hong Kong came together to conduct a study to predict when the coronavirus pandemic might be near a close. During the early days of the coronavirus outbreak, in March of 2020, medical professionals, Kin On Kwok, Florence Lai, Wan In Wei, Samuel Yeung Shan Wong, and Julian W.T. Tang; investigated research on past viral outbreaks to base their predictions on the future of coronavirus. This investigation considers collateral damage that comes with combating a deadly virus, metaphorically playing devil’s advocates as they figure out the best solution to ending the virus. The leading solution was herd immunity; although the idea is controversial, the researchers understood the risks of their study, stating “allow[ing] the causal virus (SARS-CoV-2) to spread to increase the population herd immunity, but at the same time protecting the elderly and those with multiple comorbidities, who are the most vulnerable to this virus” (Kwok et al. 2020, 32). However, as the coronavirus continues to spread across the globe, the race towards a vaccine becomes more of a waiting game; and turning the possibility of herd immunity into a much more appealing prize than more months in quarantine.
Before defaulting to waiting for herd immunity, the epidemiologists conducting the study have estimated how long it would take an area affected by COVID-19 to reach immunity against the virus. Due to the coronavirus’s recency, the health professionals who conducted the study relied on prior research on past viruses to aid their current research. The use of previously established models of transmissions of infectious diseases, such as the exponential growth model from a prior study in 2007 (Lipsitch and Wallinga. 2007, 599), to estimate the coronavirus’s reproduction in a given population. Through the use of the exponential growth model, the researchers predicted the rate of infection to be three, which meant that “at least two-thirds of the population need to be immune” (Kwok et al. 2020, 32) to halt the spread of infection in that specific area. In fact, for the past few decades, a seasonal coronavirus has been infecting the human population (Meyer et al. 2014, 175). New information on previous coronavirus cases opens the possibility of some already having partial immunity to the virus, building up hope of herd immunity in the future.
As the world battles off the COVID-19 pandemic, the most significant thing we need to carry us through these isolated times is hope. However, this study was written on March 18, 2020, seven days after the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic; at a time when the world was beginning to be quarantined and unfamiliar with the full effects of the virus. Since then, the initial study has led other studies and peer-reviewed articles to apply the study’s findings to their affected area. In a journal article from The Royal Society of Medicine, the writers criticize Sweden’s methods of gaining herd immunity after four months of quarantine. Sweden’s strategy to combat the virus without lockdown but allowing citizens to use their common sense and access the virus’s risks to not infringe on “Swedish individuality” (Goldsmith and Orlowski 2020, 229). Questioning the country’s reliance on herd immunity when there is no effective vaccine yet, and applying the study’s estimated 70% of a population must be infected to gain herd immunity. In another part of the world, the Swedish writers’ sentiments were also shared in Spain. The country’s National Center of Epidemiology conducted a study that found most of Spain’s population has tested negative for the coronavirus. However, a third of the population was asymptomatic (Pollán et al. 2020, 535), calling for the continued need for maintaining public health and deeming the possibility of herd immunity unethical and unachievable. With many opinions on the ethics behind herd immunity, the study’s findings by the team of epidemiologists have opened up the conversion on how to best fight a pandemic with the world population’s livelihood as the primary focus.
The fight continues between risking lives to save the majority for a speedy conclusion or sparing everyone and endure the wait until a cure. Both choices hold life or death consequences; however, the effects of any choice can not be felt until many months into the future. Consequently, the study has not been updated since the early days of the novel coronavirus outbreak in March 2020. Leaving one to speculate whether the epidemiologist’s estimations might have grown, pushing the possibility of herd immunity further than anyone hoped. Nevertheless, as the world continues to fight the deadly coronavirus, the introduction of vaccinations and herd immunity helps bring back life’s normalcy before the pandemic. Sadly, the world will not fully reach normalcy, and as we wait for positive advances against the virus, we will begin to create a new normal.
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