A leading Israeli doctor has stated their belief that Israel may be close to reaching herd immunity after the country has seen drops in COVID-19 cases despite lifting restrictions.
Prof Eyal Leshem, a director at Israel’s largest hospital, the Sheba Medical Center, explained that Israel reaching herd immunity was the only explanation for the country to be noting a decrease in cases despite the lifting of restrictions.
In Israel, more than half of its 5.3 million population have been vaccinated alongside 830,000 people who have tested positive for COVID-19 (which would give them some form of natural immunity).
In total, this puts Israel at roughly 68% of the population who are likely to be able to fight off the virus.
Herd immunity, which for COVID-19 is believed to be between 65% and 70% of a country’s population, is the threshold reached when an infection stops being able to spread because enough people are protected against it.
Reaching this is important for people who cannot be vaccinated or for those who have immune systems that are too weak to properly have a response to fending off the virus.
There are promising COVID trends in Israel, but it’s worth keeping an eye on dynamics in Chile as a reminder that middling vaccine coverage doesn’t necessarily mean epidemic will decline: pic.twitter.com/JDXm7uX8hB
— Adam Kucharski (@AdamJKucharski) April 9, 2021
Throughout the pandemic, Israel has been a key example of how a country can successfully react to a pandemic. Their swift vaccination rates have gained great praise from the international community, with cases now plummeting in Israel among all age groups.
Yet, whilst herd immunity is believed to be the likely explanation for the continued drop of new infections despite restrictions being lifted, many scientists have called for more caution.
Virologists have gone so far as to warn that herd immunity did not mean that the pandemic was ending.
As noted by a virologist at the University of Brighton, Dr Sarah Pitt, herd immunity is something difficult to fully achieve, even with high vaccination rates, “we need to see whether the cases in Israel continue to fall and stay at low levels” Dr Pitt explains.
Dr Pitt went on to emphasise that countries need to look past just achieving herd immunity as a sign for restrictions to be lifted. Instead, she suggests that “we should be looking for consistently low levels of COVID-19 infections”.
In Malta, we have seen a rising rate of vaccinations and drops in new infections of COVID-19 in light of further restrictions. The country has seen a total of 29,833 people who have contracted the virus and 181,133 who have had at least one dose of the vaccine.
As such, like many other countries, Malta remains some way off from the milestone of reaching herd immunity. Even then, remaining at the herd immunity threshold can be lost.
Thankfully, COVID-19 variants have not been shown to greatly affect the potency of the vaccine. However, scientific experts have warned that future variants could prove otherwise and thus may lead to countries dipping below the herd immunity threshold.
Should this happen though, it is not an indicator of further waves of lockdowns. Rather, we could see COVID-19 becoming like the flu jab, in which every year it is tweaked slightly to adjust for new variants that have emerged.
How does ‘herd immunity’ work?
Given that, in theory, one person usually infects three to four others (with the regular strain of the virus), once two-thirds of the population have gotten resistant to the virus then the average person will only be able to infect one other person.
This is enough for the virus to spread, yet not enough for the virus to grow – and definitely not enough for any further pandemics to be declared over COVID-19.
That said, it is far from being that easy in reality.
Vaccines are not 100% effective against the virus and not everyone is able to build up a strong or long-lasting natural immunity to COVID-19 after being infected. Newer variants of the virus would also still be transmissible.
A good example of this situation can be seen with measles. It is a highly contagious virus that was considered eliminated. Yet, the WHO revoked that status in 2019 after a “marked increase” was noted due to people not getting vaccinated for measles anymore.
This offers a clear example of why getting vaccinated is so crucial to fighting the pandemic and getting back to normality.
When do you think Malta may reach normality again? Let us know in the comments