Herd Immunity: At What Cost?


Megan Toole, Senior Staff Writer

Last March became a traumatic month for all living within the United States and in other countries around the world. The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted everyone globally. It has so far killed over 1.4  million people, and infected 52.8 million globally, state current statistics. In just the United States alone, there have been over 265k deaths and over 13 million cases. 

Covid-19 is a respiratory illness that has many symptoms that are similar to the flu although they are caused by different viruses. Covid-19 is known to attack the lungs primarily, but it can also cause the body to respond with an overactive immune system response heightening inflammation throughout the body.  

Herd immunity is a concept that has been brought up by doctors in the fight against Covid-19. According to an online definition: “Herd immunity is a form of indirect protection from infectious disease that occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population has become immune to an infection, whether through vaccination or previous infections, thereby reducing the likelihood of infection for individuals who lack immunity.” It is important to note that herd immunity is reached most successfully by protecting people from a virus, not exposing them to it. A viable vaccine would protect most effectively. 

 Elijah Chambers, a junior at Hubbard High states, “Herd immunity can help stop the spread of Covid-19. If enough people get the vaccine, this would help most, if not all people, from spreading it.” When trying to reach herd immunity, a large majority of the population is vaccinated against the virus, and this lowers the amount of virus that is able to spread among the people. Not everyone in the given population needs to be vaccinated, so this can ensure more vulnerable groups that can not get vaccinated are kept safe. 

Now, since no country, to date, has implemented a successful vaccine, the only way we could reach herd immunity would be through mass infection. Hypothetically, this would cause many more millions to die. That could mean sacrificing those who already have a bad immune system, the elderly, those who have underlying sickness, or possibly children, since we have yet to clearly determine what the disease does to them. Toshe Stone, a senior at Hubbard High states, “I think continued exposure is going to do a lot more harm than good especially if someone were to have any underlying conditions or diseases that he or she doesn’t now about. And as far as the vaccine goes: What’s going to happen if a person gets the shot, and then turns out to be worse? We’re better off without a vaccine for now until more tests can be done.”  

So attempts to reach herd immunity without vaccination will create a moral dilemma because of the damage to the vulnerable population, but the vaccine may prove just as dangerous or potentially ineffective for some.  And therein lies the controversy. When will Herd Immunity be attainable, at what cost, and what becomes the magic number?