Epidemiologist says reaching herd immunity with Delta is “mythical”

herd immunity delta mythical, herd immunity
© Laurentiu Iordache

Sir Andrew Pollard, head of the Oxford Vaccine Group, said on Tuesday (10 August) that herd immunity is “mythical” in relation to the Delta variant – as it still infects vaccinated individuals

Sir Pollard, a leading epidemiologist, said that the Delta variant made the possibility of herd immunity “mythical” – as the variant can still infect those who are fully vaccinated, and the majority of the world remains unvaccinated.

‘Herd immunity is not a possibility’

“I think we are in a situation here with this current variant where herd immunity is not a possibility because it still infects vaccinated individuals,” said Pollard, one of the team who created the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“And that does mean that anyone who’s still unvaccinated, at some point, will meet the virus. That might not be this month or next month, it might be next year, but at some point they will meet the virus and we don’t have anything that will stop that transmission.

Does this mean the vaccine doesn’t work?

No. The vaccine works.

Vaccination has been proven to prevent severe COVID, even with Delta. But the issue is now evolving – it’s impossible to achieve herd immunity when the world is far from vaccinated.

The Delta variant, originating in India, is now globally dominant. The WHO predicted this in June. But the UK attempted to keep democratic ties with India, as borders remained open during the most horrific stages of Delta deaths and hospitalisations.

Now, scientists and healthcare workers are concerned about who can access the vaccine.

The majority of Global South countries are less than 10% vaccinated. Cities now face the “deadliest stage of the pandemic,” according to a report by the Institute of Government and Wellcome Trust.

The report said: “The speed at which the virus is evolving and spreading – and the ease with which new variants move across borders between highly connected countries – should tell us that, as much as they might like to, no country or group of countries will exit the Covid-19 crisis alone.”

Herd immunity may appear to be plausible within a country – but outside of it, the global uptake of vaccination remains heavily imbalanced.

WHO official says vaccination ‘only magic dust’ we have

Dr Mike Ryan, Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, said: “People keep asking for magic dust. It doesn’t exist.

“Only magic dust we do have is vaccination. Problem is, we’re not sprinkling that evenly around the world, and we’re working against ourselves.”

The ‘magic’ of vaccination can only work when applied evenly, as suggested by Dr Ryan. Right now, more variants are mutating in places that lack access to COVID vaccination – due to a lack of financial power. In those places, the pandemic continues on as fiercely as it did in the West back in early 2020. The WHO even asked all countries to suspend their booster shots, in order to direct doses toward countries without a base level of vaccination.

On Wednesday (4 August), Dr Tedros asked richer countries to wait. He said: “We need an urgent reversal from the majority of vaccines going to high-income countries, to the majority going to low income countries.”

No countries have so far agreed to pause their third vaccination rollout plans.


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