Malilong: Of flattened curve and herd immunity

The Other Side

SUNSTAR Cebu reported last week the statement of Central Visayas Regional Health Director Jaime Bernadas that the region has “flattened the epidemiological curve” and that Cebu is “developing herd immunity from Covid-19.”

Both terms - flattening the curve and herd immunity - frequently come up on television and in the newspapers these days, which is probably why most people talk about them as if they were born to a pandemic. My idea about this pair of concepts is, on the other hand, very limited so after I heard that we have achieved one milestone vis-à-vis the coronavirus and is nearing another, I decided to do some reading.

My understanding from the literature that is available on the internet is that “flattening the curve” involves slowing down the spread of the disease over time. If it takes only two days for the disease to reach 2,000, the aim should be to make the doubling time longer. How longer, whether two weeks or two months or whatever, my reading did not show. I’m sure Bernadas knows the measurement.

I also read that the rationale behind flattening the curve is to assure that patients get adequate medical care. When 2,000 cases develop in two days, it is likely to overwhelm our hospitals and health workers. If you have the same number of cases over a three-month period, there is no such strain on our health-related resources.

So when Bernadas said that we have flattened the curve, he did not mean that the Covid-19 scare is over. The coronavirus is still around but has been unable to capture as many victims as they did in July because we washed our hands frequently, wore masks, avoided crowds and practiced social distancing.

Herd immunity, on the other hand, refers to that state where the presence of a certain number of immune members of a community provides indirect protection against the disease to the non-immune ones.

An article in the Johns Hopkins University website explains it thus: “If 80 percent of a population is immune to a virus, four out of every five people who encounter someone with the disease won’t get sick (and won’t spread the disease any further).”

The article also said that depending on how contagious an infection is, usually 50 percent to 90 percent of a population needs immunity to achieve herd immunity.

Obviously, we have not reached that threshold yet, otherwise Bernadas would have already said that we have achieved herd immunity instead of “we are on the way to developing herd immunity.” Still the question has to be asked, what was his basis in saying that we are on the way to being immune to the disease? How many people has the DOH tested and found to be immune?

The concept of herd immunity as protection against the Covid-19 pandemic is a controversial one and has remained unproven. Sweden was the first to experiment with it and with dismal results. Bernadas may have meant well in promising the arrival of the age of herd immunity but he is doing more harm than good because people might think that they do not have to fear the disease and will in fact be helping the community by getting infected and, once healed, immune.

Now tell me, how irresponsible the behavior can that mindset drive?


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