Here’s why it’s not safe to just let everyone get COVID-19.
You finally made your appointment to get vaccinated, but your family members are still debating whether or not to get the jab. You try to convince them by producing credible research, but they ask, “Why can’t we just get herd immunity by all getting the virus naturally?”
It’s a fair question, but once you dig into the statistics, you might quickly realize the limitations of this approach. Here’s why getting the COVID-19 vaccine is a safer and more humane approach to reaching herd immunity.
What Is Herd Immunity?
Herd immunity is when most of a population has antibodies to the infection. Not only does this protect their own health, but it makes it very difficult for the virus to spread anywhere. With so many people protected, the virus has very few opportunities to jump from person to person, so it dies out.
One of the benefits of herd immunity is that it provides indirect protection to those who are unprotected or not immune. A small fraction of the people can’t get vaccines, or they might not be eligible. For people who can’t get the vaccine, herd immunity is their best bet for protection. (For example, the COVID-19 vaccine isn’t approved for children under 16, as of March 2021.)
The United States has achieved herd immunity for previously common but now rare infectious diseases like:
Infection or Vaccines for Herd Immunity
There are two ways to achieve herd immunity. To get antibody protection that leads to herd immunity, a large portion of the population has to either:
- Gets the vaccine
- Or gets infected
If the world decided to achieve herd immunity the second way, it would be extremely risky and dangerous. COVID-19 can cause severe illness, death, and unpleasant long-term complications. That means allowing the whole country to get infected would result in immense suffering and loss of life. This is why herd immunity via vaccination is the best route.
If you or any family members have doubts about getting vaccinated, talk to your primary care provider. Learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine here.
Stella A. Safo, MD, is an HIV primary care physician and assistant professor of Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital.
- Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19 Vaccination. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control, 2021. (Accessed March 25, 2021)
- Benefits of Getting a COVID-19 Vaccine. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control, 2021. (Accessed March 25, 2021)
- What is Herd Immunity and How Can We Achieve It With COVID-19?. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. (Accessed March 25, 2021)