Brazos County Judge, medical experts talk about impact of herd immunity for COVID-19

Published: Jul. 8, 2020 at 5:51 PM CDT
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BRYAN, Texas (KBTX) - The idea of “herd immunity” is coming up more often in discussions about COVID-19. As cases in Texas, the United States and world continue to climb, leaders want to know all the options for stopping its spread.

Brazos County Judge Duane Peters even mentioned it during an interview Tuesday. After the Commissioner’s Court meeting he wondered if herd immunity might help fight COVID-19 when speaking with KBTX.

”There’s been discussion about herd immunity and all that stuff and I have no idea whether that works with COVID-19 or not but if it does then it’s, I think there is some logic why it might be better that there’s a lot of folks especially young folks who are asymptomatic usually and they get it and they get over it,” said Peters.

“To me the numbers in the hospital are really the numbers we ought to be looking at and we just hadn’t seen the spike anywhere close to what’s going on with just the positive numbers,” said Peters.

With recent discussions about herd immunity, we wanted a better understanding of what it means and its potential impact for COVID-19.

”Individuals that aren’t immune are unlikely to catch the disease because they are surrounded by enough of the community members who are immune from the disease,” said Dr. Kia Parsi, the Chief Medical Officer for CHI St. Joseph Regional Health.

Parsi said officials hope to have herd immunity for coronavirus in the future. But he says there’s still more about the virus we need to figure out before that happens.

”It’s either enough of the population has been infected or enough of the population has been immunized to prevent infection. The truth is we don’t know for sure if being previously infected with COVID-19 develops enough of an immunity to create this herd immunity effect,” said Parsi.

Dr. Seth Sullivan, the Brazos County Alternate Health Authority, echoes what Dr. Parsi said. It’s too soon to give it a try and not a strategy they can take just yet.

Dr. Lon Young, Chief Medical Officer with Caprock Health System said he can see why herd immunity would appear helpful at first glance.

“There are at least three major problems with the concept of herd immunity as it applies to COVID-19. The first is we don’t have a well defined herd... Our herd is really the entire world population we just move so much that defining a human herd is just really not applicable,” said Young.

“The second problem that you get into is that in order to achieve herd immunity you need a type of infection that a person develops a long term immunity to and so when we think of herd immunity we think of diseases likes measles, mumps or chicken pox,” said Young. He said the final issue is the high human cost it would have with no vaccine.

“It’s certain that we’ve had less than ten percent of our population go through infections with coronavirus and yet we’ve had over 100,00 deaths in our country so to get to the level of herd immunity you would probably need 60 percent to 70 percent of us to have the infection or had a vaccine and develop long term immunity,” said Young.

”Trying to create herd immunity by being infected I think creates a lot of danger for our community,” said Parsi.

“I think we still need to do this, do the social distancing. Wash your hands you know, use masks do all those things that are available to try to keep our hospitals from being overloaded,” said Peters on Tuesday.

We did reach out to Judge Peters Wednesday for more thoughts on the issue. He said while he’s not a medical expert he wanted to know if herd immunity might work for this situation like it has for other viruses. He said he’s not advocating for herd immunity and encourages people to continue to take precautions like we’ve been practicing in recent months.

The nation’s leading infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci has said we should know if a COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective by the end of this year or early 2021.

Copyright 2020 KBTX. All rights reserved.

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