Scientists Warn That ‘Heard Immunity’ Won’t Do Against The Second Wave of COVID-19

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(— May 8, 2020) —  The decreasing number of COVID-19 patients, and on the contrary the much larger number of those who have recovered after the infection, instills optimism, both among experts and among the population. However, the question arises what if the next wave of coronavirus occurs?

As authorities around the world consider when to lift bans and restrictions on movement and begin to remedy the impact of the coronavirus on the economy, all driven by good results in reducing the strength of the virus, the question arises as to whether the second wave of a different strength is possible.

Experts predict that another wave is upon us, but predictions vary from when it will hit- summer, fall and winter, depending on the country.

What is the “second wave”?

Researchers warn that while the world believes it is finished with the pandemic, the virus, in fact, could return and spread even faster in the same or as a slightly mutated version. Researchers say that it is often the case that a newly formed virus that has previously spread across all continents can retreat briefly, and then return, after a few months.

What is the cause of the “silencing” of the first wave?

The current cessation of the pandemic can be helped by the weather conditions, ie the transfer of the virus to the southern hemisphere when the northern hemisphere warms up and vice versa. Also, the virus can create a collective immunity among the society, if a good part of the people have contracted the disease and have created antibodies, making a so-called “herd immunity”. In addition, a large and important role in stopping the pandemic is that of protection measures, prescribed by experts who require self-isolation, reduced number of outings, wearing a mask and gloves, regular hand washing…

Herd immunity, however, could be ineffective in the COVID-19 case.

When the virus enters a community, at first no one is immune to its influence since it is new, there is still no immunity to it and it starts to spread. However, members of a society who have fought the virus, develop antibodies which grant them immunity for a certain period of time. After many members of society have created a resistance to the specific disease, the pathogen can no longer spread and find a new “host”. This happens when a good part of the community is immune.

How does the virus come back?

If we can get enough people immune to the disease, then it will have a hard time spreading in the population. However, in practice we can’t expect over 95% of the population to be infected, it is highly unlikely, said Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz, an epidemiologist working on chronic disease research in Sydney, Australia.

“Until we have a vaccine, anyone talking about herd immunity as a preventative strategy for COVID-19 is simply wrong. Fortunately, there are other ways of preventing infections from spreading, which all boil down to avoiding people who are sick,” said Mr. Katz.

The herd immunity approach has worked before, but a big difference with COVID-19 is the fact that we do not have a working vaccine. In the absence of a widespread vaccination program, the only way we can reach herd immunity is by a large portion of the global population falling ill, which is the worst-case scenario with millions of death cases.

The price for pushing for rapid herd immunity would be simply too high, Genetic Literacy Project article says.

Why we didn’t have another wave of SARS?

The outbreak of the SARS virus in Asia in 2002 never crossed such a large number of borders to cause a pandemic. Although caused by the coronavirus, it was not as contagious as COVID-19. Its spread was mostly limited to hospitals and other environments where people came into contact with infected fluids.