Herd immunity is the resistance to the spread of a contagious disease within a population that results if a sufficiently high proportion of individuals are immune to the disease, especially through vaccination.
The prospects for a vaccine are, according to New Scientist, 21 March 2020, p45, ‘. . . the fastest we have ever cranked out a vaccine in response to an outbreak was with Ebola – and that took five years . . .‘
The other way is to allow 50-80% of the population to become infected quickly so that survivors will be in an immune herd. The strategy has ethical objections that it practices eugenics, aiming to improve the genetic quality of a human population. Some consider it is more ethical and politically viable to suppress the pandemic with economic and social restrictions that wreck the economy.
An article in aljazeera asks: Which countries have allowed the elderly and the sick to die in numbers, as an alternative to widespread economic damage caused by more stringent suppression measures?
Countries have responded differently, as is evident from this table.
|Deaths per million|
It remains to be seen if stringent suppression has merely delayed deaths until later, with more and longer lasting economic damage. A short sharp economic shock from epidemic virulence could possibly be less damaging overall, except for people who are without medical treatment. Countries that adopt a balance between medical and economic constraints may be best placed to countenance the uncertainties.
A possible philosophy is to keep hospital beds treating as many COVID-19 cases as possible.
Data: https://www.worldometers.info/ April 16th, 2020
Suppose an imaginary country has 92% of road deaths aged 60+. To March 30th 2020 92% of World deaths from COVID-19 were 60+. Would they close the highway to all traffic? (Shut down the economy). Or would they restrict maximum speed of drivers of all ages? (Social distancing). Or would some age-specific control be desirable, e.g. driver licensing age restrictions on 60+? (Restricted by quarantine, some of the 60+ group would die of non-traffic causes anyway. In Australia in 2018, 87.5% of all deaths were 60+).
Considering only 8% of people who die are 60-, equal speed restriction on all ages might be unfair to younger drivers. Could driver licensing exclude those incapable of looking after themselves in accident situations, as well as those causing others to have accidents. There could be a speed limit for 60+.
The COVID -19 corollary is that in the 60+ age group, anyone unwilling to isolate or socially distance voluntarily, could have to pass a health and fitness test. Alternatively there could be mandatory restrictions on 60+ years.
60+ people who want more protection could restrict themselves voluntarily. For example, if it was known to be foolish for an elderly person to enter a shopping crowd, they would have a choice, like waiting for a gap in traffic before crossing the road.
My comments do not oppose current restrictions. When restrictions come up for renewal, could a return to voluntarism be considered? Any restriction could be by age. This could restore social, economic and education opportunities to 60- people who are hurting.