Home >News >India >Herd immunity to covid still eludes Europe

For the past few weeks, normal life has been returning in parts of Europe with declining coronavirus cases. But lockdown relaxations call for greater caution. New research in The Lancet suggests that Europe may not have achieved herd immunity yet, implying that the decline of the virus is likely to just be a result of strict restrictions.

Herd immunity refers to the resistance to a contagious disease within a population because a sufficiently high number of individuals have become immune to it. Under such a situation, the cumulative mortality rate due to covid-19 should plateau at roughly similar levels in different countries, the study by researchers from Imperial College London argues. However, this is not true for Europe yet, the study finds.

The difference in mortality between Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands is huge, the authors point out. As of 17 May, Germany has had 95 deaths per million population, but the number is 332 for the Netherlands and 525 for Italy.

The authors also find considerable difference in seroprevalence—or prevalence of antibodies among people—across Europe, despite similar demographics, close geographic proximity and strong genetic similarities.

The variations can partly be explained by each country’s timing and stringency of interventions following the outbreak of the coronavirus, the authors suggest. The study finds evidence that countries that went into lockdown earlier had fewer deaths in the following six-week period. This is further evidence that lockdowns are likely to have been more responsible for curtailing transmission and deaths.

Understanding herd immunity is important as it will guide further policy decisions. So far, evidence suggests that the epidemic is still at an early stage and that a large proportion of the population therefore remain susceptible.

Also read: Have deaths from COVID-19 in Europe plateaued due to herd immunity?

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