WHO warns against pursuing herd immunity strategy to stop coronavirus

LONDON (AP) — The head of the World Health Organization warned against the idea that herd immunity might be a realistic strategy to stop the pandemic, dismissing such proposals as “simply unethical.”

At a media briefing on Monday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said health officials typically aim to achieve herd immunity by vaccination. Tedros noted that to obtain herd immunity from a highly infectious disease such as measles, for example, about 95% of the population must be immunized.

“Herd immunity is achieved by protecting people from a virus, not by exposing them to it,” he said. Some researchers have argued that allowing COVID-19 to spread in populations that are not obviously vulnerable will help build up herd immunity and is a more realistic way to stop the pandemic, instead of the restrictive lockdowns that have proved economically devastating.

“Never in the history of public health has herd immunity been used as a strategy for responding to an outbreak,” Tedros said.

Tedros said that too little was known about immunity to COVID-19 to know if herd immunity is even achievable.

“We have some clues, but we don’t have the complete picture,” he said, noting that WHO had documented instances of people becoming reinfected with coronavirus after recovering from an initial bout of the virus. Tedros said that while most people appear to develop some kind of immune response, it’s unclear how long that lasts or how robust that protection is — and that different people have varying responses.

29 PHOTOSCoronavirus in TexasSee GalleryCoronavirus in TexasHOUSTON, TX – JULY 28:(EDITORIAL USE ONLY) A member of the medical staff speaks to a patient who is treated with a helmet-based ventilator in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at the United Memorial Medical Center on July 28, 2020 in Houston, Texas. COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have spiked since Texas reopened, pushing intensive-care units to full capacity and sparking concerns about a surge in fatalities as the virus spreads.(Photo by Go Nakamura/Getty Images)A casket carrying the body of Lola M. Simmons is removed from a hearse at Lincoln Memorial Cemetery following a double funeral service for her mother Lola M. Simmons-Jones at the Denley Drive Missionary Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas on July 30, 2020, who both died of coronavirus. – Lola M. Simmons-Jones passed due to the coronavirus on July 15, her daughter Lashaye Antoinette Allen passed away from the coronavirus on July 20. Dallas County reported a record number of COVID-19 related deaths in a single day at 36, according to local health officials. This brings the total to 658 confirmed deaths since the first one was reported March 19. (Photo by Bryan R. Smith / AFP) (Photo by BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP via Getty Images)HOUSTON, TX – JULY 28:(EDITORIAL USE ONLY) Members of the medical staff treat a patient in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at the United Memorial Medical Center on July 28, 2020 in Houston, Texas. COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have spiked since Texas reopened, pushing intensive-care units to full capacity and sparking concerns about a surge in fatalities as the virus spreads.(Photo by Go Nakamura/Getty Images)HOUSTON, TX – JULY 28:(EDITORIAL USE ONLY) Members of the medical staff treat a patient who is wearing helmet-based ventilator in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at the United Memorial Medical Center on July 28, 2020 in Houston, Texas. COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have spiked since Texas reopened, pushing intensive-care units to full capacity and sparking concerns about a surge in fatalities as the virus spreads.(Photo by Go Nakamura/Getty Images)HOUSTON, TX – JULY 28:(EDITORIAL USE ONLY) Members of the medical staff talk to each otherin the COVID-19 intensive care unit at the United Memorial Medical Center on July 28, 2020 in Houston, Texas. COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have spiked since Texas reopened, pushing intensive-care units to full capacity and sparking concerns about a surge in fatalities as the virus spreads.(Photo by Go Nakamura/Getty Images)HOUSTON, TX – JULY 28:(EDITORIAL USE ONLY)A patient who is treated with a helmet-based ventilator lies on a bed in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at the United Memorial Medical Center on July 28, 2020 in Houston, Texas. COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have spiked since Texas reopened, pushing intensive-care units to full capacity and sparking concerns about a surge in fatalities as the virus spreads.(Photo by Go Nakamura/Getty Images)HOUSTON, TX – JULY 28:(EDITORIAL USE ONLY) Members of the medical staff change bed sheets in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at the United Memorial Medical Center on July 28, 2020 in Houston, Texas. COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have spiked since Texas reopened, pushing intensive-care units to full capacity and sparking concerns about a surge in fatalities as the virus spreads.(Photo by Go Nakamura/Getty Images)HOUSTON, TX – JULY 28:(EDITORIAL USE ONLY) Members of the medical staff treat a patient who is wearing helmet-based ventilator in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at the United Memorial Medical Center on July 28, 2020 in Houston, Texas. COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have spiked since Texas reopened, pushing intensive-care units to full capacity and sparking concerns about a surge in fatalities as the virus spreads.(Photo by Go Nakamura/Getty Images)HOUSTON, TX – JULY 28:(EDITORIAL USE ONLY) Members of the medical staff treat a patient in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at the United Memorial Medical Center on July 28, 2020 in Houston, Texas. COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have spiked since Texas reopened, pushing intensive-care units to full capacity and sparking concerns about a surge in fatalities as the virus spreads.(Photo by Go Nakamura/Getty Images)The caskets holding the bodies of Lola M. Simmons-Jones and her daughter, Lashaye Antoinette Allen, who both died of coronavirus, are placed next one another before burial at Lincoln Memorial Cemeteryin Dallas, Texas on July 30, 2020. – Lola M. Simmons-Jones passed due to the coronavirus on July 15, her daughter Lashaye Antoinette Allen passed away from the coronavirus on July 20. Dallas County reported a record number of COVID-19 related deaths in a single day at 36, according to local health officials. This brings the total to 658 confirmed deaths since the first one was reported March 19. (Photo by Bryan R. Smith / AFP) (Photo by BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP via Getty Images)TOPSHOT – A casket carrying the body of Lola M. Simmons is placed into a hearse following the funeral service at the Denley Drive Missionary Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas on July 30, 2020, whodied of coronavirus alongside her daughter Lashaye Antoinette Allen. – Lola M. Simmons-Jones passed due to the coronavirus on July 15, her daughter Lashaye Antoinette Allen passed away from the coronavirus on July 20. Dallas County reported a record number of COVID-19 related deaths in a single day at 36, according to local health officials. This brings the total to 658 confirmed deaths since the first one was reported March 19. (Photo by Bryan R. Smith / AFP) (Photo by BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP via Getty Images)A man in a car waits to be tested for COVID-19 at a drive-thru testing site at Camping World Stadium on July 22, 2020 in Orlando, Florida. On Wednesday, Florida recorded more than 100 new coronavirus deaths for the seventh time in two weeks, and is tied with Texas for the worst current daily average in the nation. (Photo by Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto via Getty Images)A City of Orlando employee holds a COVID-19 test sample at a drive-thru testing site at Camping World Stadium on July 22, 2020 in Orlando, Florida. On Wednesday, Florida recorded more than 100 new coronavirus deaths for the seventh time in two weeks, and is tied with Texas for the worst current daily average in the nation. 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As coronavirus deaths surge past 4000 in Texas, overwhelmed hospitals are being forced to plan for extra refrigerated storage to hold deceased patients. (Photo by Cengiz Yar/Getty Images)EL PASO, TX – JULY 21: People wait in their cars at a newly opened mega drive-thru site at SISD Student Activities Complex on July 21, 2020 in El Paso, Texas. As coronavirus deaths surge past 4000 in Texas, overwhelmed hospitals are being forced to plan for extra refrigerated storage to hold deceased patients. (Photo by Cengiz Yar/Getty Images)MC ALLEN, TEXAS-July 20, 2020-Sonia Aguirre, right, and 9-years-old Abdiel Sanchez pays respect to his great grandfather Fernando Aguirre, who passed away at age 69 from COVID-19. Fernando’s wife is struggling for her life with coronavirus. The coronavirus is spreading rapidly through the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, where people of all ages are getting infecting at family gatherings. (Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)MC ALLEN, TEXAS-July 20, 2020-Deacon Joe Vargas, age 43, is conducting three funerals a day, while wearing an air purifier around his neck to help protect him from getting the coronavirus. He is the youngest deacon in the Diosese of Brownsville, Texas, which is why he is so busy. The coronavirus is spreading rapidly through the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, where people of all ages are getting infecting at family gatherings. (Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)EL PASO, TX – JULY 21: The El Paso County Office of the Medical Examiner on July 21, 2020 in El Paso, Texas. As coronavirus deaths surge past 4000 in Texas, overwhelmed hospitals are being forced to plan for extra refrigerated storage to hold deceased patients. (Photo by Cengiz Yar/Getty Images)MC ALLEN, TEXAS-July 20, 2020-Two day-old David Alejandro Vega was being treated in the neonatal intensive care unit at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance in Edinbug, Texas. 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The coronavirus is spreading rapidly through the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, where people of all ages are getting infecting at family gatherings. (Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)MC ALLEN, TEXAS-July 20, 2020-A COVID-19 patient is placed on her stomach to help breathing while on a ventilator at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance in Edinburg, Texas, where hospitalizations and deaths have spiked this month. The coronavirus is spreading rapidly through the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, where people of all ages are getting infecting at family gatherings. (Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)MC ALLEN, TEXAS-July 20, 2020-Catrina Rugar, 34, a traveling nurse from Florida, responded first to hospitals in New York City, then Texas’ Rio Grande Valley this month, where she was treating COVID patients at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance in Edinburg last week.The coronavirus is spreading rapidly through the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, where people of all ages are getting infecting at family gatherings. (Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)HOUSTON, TX – JULY 17: Medical workers from New York wearing personal protective equipments handle test samples at temporary testing site for COVID-19 in Higher Dimensions Churchon July 17, 2020 in Houston, Texas. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo dispatched medical workers from New York State to assist with the spread of COVID-19 in Houston, and particularly in the hard-hit communities of color. 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“Allowing a dangerous virus that we don’t fully understand to run free is simply unethical,” he said.

WHO estimates less than 10% of the population has any immunity to the coronavirus, meaning the vast majority of the world remains susceptible.

Tedros also noted countries had reported record-high daily figures of COVID-19 to the U.N. health agency for the last four days, citing surges in Europe and the Americas in particular.

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