Natural herd immunity would take 'inhuman death toll' in Belgium

Natural herd immunity would take 'inhuman death toll' in Belgium

Achieving herd immunity against the coronavirus the natural way would take an "inhuman death toll" in Belgium, health officials stated during a press conference on Friday.

"The pursuit of group immunity through natural infection, meaning without the help of a vaccine, is a wrong idea," virologist and interfederal Covid-19 spokesperson Steven Van Gucht said.

"Certainly for a relatively deadly virus, and in a country such as Belgium, where almost a third of the population belongs to a risk group, it is dangerous," he said, adding that the death toll to achieve sufficient immunity in the population has been estimated at 60,000 or more.

"It would take an inhuman toll on human lives," Van Gucht said. "The only option we have is to limit our contacts, and to follow the measures until we can create herd immunity with the help of a vaccine."

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However, herd immunity does not lead to the disappearance of a virus, Van Gucht clarified. "That has never happened before."Complete eradication of a virus is only possible with the help of a good vaccine and, on top of that, controlled or targeted control strategies."

Thanks to herd immunity, however, a virus can evolve from an epidemic to a so-called endemic state. "In the event of an epidemic, there are explosive spikes that overload the system, and that is what we are now seeing," Van Gucht said.

"With an endemic equilibrium, there is a low level of infection with occasional small outbreaks, such as during the winter period, but the healthcare system is then no longer under pressure," he added.

According to Sciensano's data, about 10% to 20% of the population will have antibodies against the coronavirus after this second wave of infections. However, that is still "very far from the immunity rate we would like to have in the community as a whole" which would be between 60% and 70% of the population.

If everything goes according to plan, good vaccines will be available in the spring. "Then, it will be much easier to control this virus," Van Gucht said. "So persevere. This will pass."

Maïthé Chini

The Brussels Times

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