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Herd immunity not a viable option for Uganda -Experts

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

Kampala, Uganda |  THE INDEPENDENT |  Ugandan Medical Experts have cautioned against the consideration of herd immunity as an option for curbing COVID-19. Similar to an argument by the World Health Organisation, they argue that the strategy is scientifically problematic.

Herd immunity occurs when a large portion of a community (the herd) becomes immune to a disease, making its spread from person-to-person unlikely. It can also be reached when a sufficient number of people in the population has recovered from a disease and have developed antibodies against future infection. 

As a result, the concept assumes, that through this immunity, the population can be protected from a virus if a threshold of vaccination is reached. But Ugandan scientists say that the idea cannot be considered in a country like Uganda, with an overstretched country health system.

Monica Musenero, an epidemiologist and senior presidential advisor on epidemics says that if Uganda considers using herd immunity as a means of treating COVID-19, at least 60 per cent of the population would have to be infected. So far, Uganda has recorded slightly above 10,000 cases of COVID-19.

Musenero says that the country’s healthcare system is not equipped to handle large numbers of reported cases. “Right now, we are already overstretched. Now imagine having over 100,000 cases. That would mean many people would have to die.”

Globally, 40 million people are infected with the disease and over one million have succumbed to the disease, according to  John Hopkins University and Medicine. To date, there’s no proof that herd immunity works, but according to Musenero, even if it could work, only countries that are in denial about the disease can take this route. 

She however quickly adds that little is known about the disease and the chances of herd immunity working might below.

“When COVID hit European countries, many of them did not implement preventive measures like social distancing and this gave the disease a chance to spread. If there really was herd immunity, we would be seeing it. These countries would not be reporting the new numbers that they,” she said.

Dr Bruce Kirenga, a lung expert who is also part of the COVID-19 treatment team says herd immunity should not be looked at as an option to handle the disease.

The World Health Organisation boss, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus referred to using herd immunity as an ethical and not an option saying if the virus was left to run around, it would lead to unnecessary infections, sufferings and death.

With no cure yet and vaccine yet, medics are encouraging Ugandans to adhere to the set preventive measures as a means of keeping safe.

“COVID is here to stay with us for a long time. Cases will reduce and increase at different times. The only thing we know that seems to work when it comes to disrupting transmissions is following the SOPs,” Musenero said.

Only two infectious diseases have ever been eradicated: the human scourge of smallpox and the cattle-borne germ rinderpest.

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