Is reopening of schools and colleges the best way to achieve herd immunity?
The COVID-19 pandemic has turned our world upside down. In order to protect oneself from the virus, norms like physical distancing, staying at home, sanitising from time to time, using an N95 mask outdoors have become basic necessities.
While countries all over the world are in a race to discover the vaccine or a solution which can bring things back to a pre-COVID world. While research and testing are in full swing, scientists all over are also open to experimenting with tactics that might help the public become immune to the virus.
The concept of eherd immunity’ is one of the options; it’s a form of indirect protection from infectious diseases which ensures a large percentage of the population becomes immune to the infection, either through vaccination or previous infections.
One of the various methods of achieving herd immunity would be to experiment with reopening of schools and colleges eventually. Elaborating on this, Dr. Amitav Banerjee, Professor & Head Community Medicine, Dr DY Patil Medical College, Pune commented, “If we choose to open schools and colleges once the curve stabilises, there are very strong chances that we will be able to achieve herd immunity. Children and young adults have a fresh immunity, which makes them better prepared to fight infections. It has a multiplier effect- if we develop it, we can protect many people. If we study USA data, 24 districts in USA do not have a single child fatality.”
Adding, “The mean age & Body Mass index (BMI) has been an important factor in the number of deaths. Recent CDC update mentions that obesity is a major risk factor for fatality from Covid-19 virus. Japan never had a lockdown and despite having a higher mean age there were very few fatalities, which reconfirm CDC findings”, Dr Banerjee added.
The idea behind achieving herd immunity, as simple as it may sound, is actually quite complex in terms of achievement. Explaining how exactly herd immunity is achieved, Dr. Sanjay K. Rai, Professor, Centre of Community Medicine, AIIMS New Delhi elaborated, “there are two basic ways of achieving herd immunity- by developing a vaccine, and by exposure to infection. Since there is no possible way of knowing by when we can find a vaccine and how effective it will be, the only other alternative is through infection.”
The opening of schools and colleges, at present, seems like a bizarre idea which will only put the future of the country at risk. However, in this dark situation, Dr. Rai finds a silver lining, “If schools and colleges go back to functioning in full swing, keeping in mind distancing and sanitisation norms, there is a possibility that sooner or later, everyone will get exposed. Children have fresh immunity, and they can be major contributors to us achieving herd immunity. The process is quite complex, though- careful interpretation and increase in testing are vital for it to be successful.”
Dr Chandrakant S Pandav, Former HoD, Center of Community Medicine, said, “Lockdown may not be the ultimate solution to fight COVID 19. It may delay the infection but cannot protect us forever. There are multiple diseases, vaccines for which remain elusive & if that happens with COVID 19, herd immunity is our only solution to end the pandemic.”
Dr Swadeep Srivastava, Founder, Heal Foundation said, “The experts have presented a new perspective about immunity at large. The limited activity & exposure of sunlight have a negative effect on the immunity of a person. Schools have moved to online classes and most corporates have accepted the work from home culture, the changes, which were supposed to save people from COVID, may be making them vulnerable to infections due to decreasing immunity. With no certainty around vaccines, herd immunity seems to be the only option and opening schools and colleges can be a rational call.”