• Wednesday, Jul 08, 2020
  • Last Update : 02:58 am

Is achieving natural herd immunity a viable option for Bangladesh?

  • Published at 10:58 am May 17th, 2020
islampur market shopping-MH
Photo shows massive crowd as people buying clothes for Eid in Islampur area of Dhaka during Coronavirus pandemic Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

According to WHO, controlling the spread of the virus would still need a massive effort from all even if a vaccine is found

As no vaccines for coronavirus are yet in sight, experts caution that achieving natural herd immunity among a majority of the population in Bangladesh might bring forward a health catastrophe considering the country’s population density, healthcare facilities, and awareness regarding Covid-19 among its citizens.

“Herd immunity can be acquired in two ways, either naturally or artificially. Achieving herd immunity in a natural way equals to a public health catastrophe where a huge number of people will get infected and some of them will die,” said Professor Dr Nazrul Islam, a virologist at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU).

“Now, what the world is looking for is a vaccine that would help acquire artificial herd immunity against coronavirus,” said the professor while talking to Dhaka Tribune.

He also said natural herd immunity has been taking place on a limited scale among communities as there are no vaccines available against the virus or no enforcement of a complete lockdown. 

“However, if everything reopens and people stop following social distancing and other health guidelines, the spreading will increase manifold.”

The virologist also said the government should strategize wisely before reopening regular activities in Dhaka and people need to take precautionary measures advised by the health experts if they want to protect themselves.      

“Dhaka city has the most number of positive Covid-19 cases and therefore policy makers need to be very careful about lifting lockdown. Tolarbag can be a good example in this regard on how lockdowns can be enforced in the capital,” he said. 

Two epidemiologists at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Gypsyamber D’Souza and David Dowdy, conclude that herd immunity against Covid-19 cannot be achieved at a population level in 2020, barring a public health catastrophe.

“To reach herd immunity for Covid-19, 70% or more of the population will likely need to become immune. Without a vaccine, over 200 million Americans would have to get infected before we reach this threshold,” they said.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), controlling the spread of the virus would still need a massive effort from all even if a vaccine is found.  

In an online briefing on Thursday, WHO emergencies expert Mike Ryan said coronavirus may become just another endemic virus and this virus might never go away.

Ryan said vaccines exist for other illnesses, such as measles but those diseases have not been eradicated yet. 

Sweden took an approach to control Covid-19 which stirred debate throughout the world. The country’s restaurants, schools, and gyms are open and the government urges its citizens to maintain social distance and follow health guidelines. 

Sweden is comparatively doing better in controlling the Covid-19 virus transmission with 29,677 positive cases with 3,674 deaths as of Saturday. 

Former ICDDR,B research fellow Dr Shahriar Rozen, currently working as a senior policy lead for Alberta Ministry of Health in Canada, told Dhaka Tribune that Sweden’s approach to control Covid-19 might not be feasible for Bangladesh for a number of reasons. 

“People in Sweden, like many other countries, tend to strictly follow the health guidelines to avoid transmission. Also, it is not an overly crowded country like Bangladesh,” he said.  

“At the same time, Sweden, with a population size of 10.23 million, has a good healthcare system as well.” 

He also said the economic fallout from the pandemic will worsen compared to the current economic crisis taking place due to the enforcement of partial lockdowns and movement restrictions as more infected people would mean more people will not be able to resume work until they recover. 

Requesting anonymity, a public health expert told Dhaka Tribune that if Bangladesh goes for achieving natural herd immunity the whole health system will collapse in no time. 

“Although the percentage of deaths is low among the infected patients, it is difficult to understand the sorrow of those who lost their near ones to Covid-19,” he said.

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