Oct. 13 (UPI) — World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus dismissed the idea of attempting to fight the coronavirus with “herd immunity” achieved by allowing COVID-19 to spread, saying this method will only cause suffering and death.
“Never in the history of public health has herd immunity been used as a strategy for responding to an outbreak, let alone a pandemic. It is scientifically and ethically problematic,” the head of the U.N. health body said Monday during his opening remarks at a WHO COVID-19 media briefing.
According to the Mayo Clinic, herd immunity is achieved when a large enough portion of a community becomes immune to the virus and can protect those who are susceptible to infection.
Tedros explained the term concerns immunity achieved through vaccination and not from unmitigated infection.
“Herd immunity is achieved by protecting people from a virus, not by exposing them to it,” he said.
Much is still unknown about COVID-19, and while many who have been infected show immunity, it is unclear if that immunity will persist, he said, adding that there have been reports of people falling sick a second time and that there is a lack of data concerning the long-term effects of infection.
“Letting the virus circulate unchecked, therefore, means allowing unnecessary infections, suffering and death,” he said. “Allowing a dangerous virus that we don’t fully understand to run free is simply unethical. It’s not an option.”
Tedros made the comments as cases continue to skyrocket in Europe and the Americas, with the world setting record daily highs for infections on each of the last four days.
However, the pandemic is uneven, he said, explaining that nearly 70% of the cases reported in the last week were from 10 countries with almost half coming from three.
There are tools to prevent further spread of the virus that are not limited to shutdowns or stay-at-home orders, such as contact tracing, quarantine, physical distancing and many others, he said.
“There are no shortcuts and no silver bullets,” he said. “The answer is a comprehensive approach, using every tool in the toolbox.”
According to a live tracker of the virus by Johns Hopkins University, more than 37.8 million people have been infected with COVID-19, killing more than 1 million of them.