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'There will be no herd immunity': scientists have revised the concept of combating the pandemic

'18.07.2020'

Source: DW

The increase in the number of patients with coronavirus will not stop the pandemic. In Germany and South Korea, after the latest research on antibodies, the popular concept of fighting SARS-CoV-2 was buried, reports DW.

Photo: Shutterstock

“The concept of herd immunity can be considered a failure”, “It is de facto impossible to develop population immunity in society”: these almost identical statements were made by politicians simultaneously in Germany and South Korea. The categorical statements indicate that in two countries, which are still more successful than many others in the fight against the coronavirus, there has been a significant reassessment of the methods of dealing with the pandemic and the chances of success.

King's College Study: Immune Response Drops Fast

True, in Berlin and in Seoul from the very beginning they did not rely on the rapid development of collective immunity to COVID-19 due to the large number of cases of illness. This concept was adhered to at one time in London and to a certain extent in Stockholm. But the possibility of mass immunity to infection as it spreads was not ruled out. An echo of this approach was, for example, the acclaimed phrase of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said in mid-March with reference to epidemiologists that up to 70 percent of the population could become infected.

But then science still knew very little about the features of the new insidious virus. However, this knowledge is growing literally every week, and most recently, there are growing signs that those infected with SARS-CoV-2 have not developed long-term immunity. In other words, they run the risk of being infected over and over again.

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The highest content of antibodies to the virus is recorded in patients three weeks after the onset of the first symptoms. Scientists note that 60 percent have a very high level of immunity to coronavirus during this period. However, after three months, only 17 percent of patients retain strong immunity to infection.

Researchers also said that over the course of three months, the number of antibodies in the blood of many subjects fell to insignificant indicators, and some could not at all detect the presence of immunity. Lead author of the study, Katie Dores, believes that refuting the theory of long-term immunity to coronavirus can have a significant impact on the vaccination process in different countries.

Karl Lauterbach: patients with COVID-19 are at risk

It was this study that prompted the German politician Karl Lauterbach to declare on July 13 on Twitter, in fact, the collapse of the concept of collective immunity. His statement was quoted by many German media outlets, as the former doctor, who was considered a candidate for the post of Minister of Health, is a leading medical expert on the parliamentary faction of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), and she is a member of the governing coalition in Germany.

According to Lauterbach, the findings of British scientists "do not mean that after a few months there is no longer any immunity, but it is likely to be rather incomplete." Therefore, there is a danger of repeated infections, “and complications after the first infection can aggravate the course of the second. So the one who has been ill once falls into the risk group, ”the expert warned. And this is the complete opposite of herd immunity.

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Karl Lauterbach responded to the publication of the British scientists, but he could also refer to the observations of the doctors at the Munich Clinic Schwabing, where the first patients with coronavirus in Germany were treated in January and since then have been observed.

“In a special test, which can only be carried out in a laboratory with increased safety conditions, we observed a decrease in the number of so-called neutralizing antibodies in four out of nine patients,” said Clemens Wendtner, head physician of the infectious diseases department of the clinic.

No antibodies detected in blood of South Koreans

If in Germany the concept of collective immunity has so far been publicly buried even by a very authoritative, but still a separate politician, then in South Korea, where repeated infections have been recorded more than once, this was done at the official government level. At a press conference in Seoul on July 12, Health Minister Park Nun Hu, according to the KBC media company, announced that it was impossible to develop population immunity in South Korean society.

He referred to a study in which 3 residents of the country participated, and scientists found antibodies in only one. The minister concluded from this that it is pointless to count on the emergence of collective immunity when developing a strategy to combat the coronavirus. Instead, we should tune in to the fact that the COVID-055 pandemic will last another year or two - before an effective vaccine is created.

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All this time, the spread of the infection will have to be constantly contained, Park Nung Hoo warned. Therefore, he turned to fellow citizens and said that society needs to achieve a harmonious balance between everyday life and anti-epidemic measures. It should be recognized that coexistence with the virus is now a new form, a new culture of social life.

Dangerous concept of population immunity

Karl Lauterbach is also waiting for an effective vaccine to appear, but admits that its effect will be short-lived. He believes that vaccinations will have to be done regularly. This is not excluded by Katie Durs, lead author of the King's College study.

But until a vaccine is available, measures to prevent infections, including among young people, are of key importance, Karl Lauterbach emphasizes. Their fate worries and the virologist from the University of Cambridge, Jonathan Heaney.

Part of the inhabitants of Great Britain, especially among young people, “frivolously became infected, because they believed that thereby contributing to the formation of population immunity,” the scientist laments. “I never tire of repeating,” Heaney quotes Business Insider, “that there’s nothing good about being infected with this virus.” The King's College study, Jonathan Heaney, calls "yet another nail in the coffin of the dangerous concept of population immunity."

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