COVID-19 herd immunity not an option for India – Center

OSD Rajesh Bhushan

Ministry of Health and Family Welfare today ruled out achieving herd immunity — developed as a result of a large portion of the population getting infected — as a workable strategy for India in its fight against COVID-19.

Rajesh Bhushan, officer on special duty at the ministry, said the government cannot have a strategy based on developing herd immunity via COVID-19 infections.

“Herd immunity in a country of the size and population of India cannot be a strategic choice or a strategic option. It can only be an outcome and that too at a very high cost,” he said.

Herd immunity is a situation in which the virus finds it difficult to move from person to person as more and more people develop resistance to the virus due to previous infection.

Some countries, such as the UK and Sweden, have — at various times — talked about the possibility of achieving herd immunity in their populations through a policy of ‘reverse quarantine’. Under this policy, vulnerable sections such as the elderly are quarantined, while healthy people are allowed to mix freely and contract the virus to develop resistance. When enough people have contracted the virus and fought it off, those under quarantine too can be allowed to move about.

Bhushan said this is not a strategy that we can adopt in India.

“It will mean crores of people will get infected and the healthcare system will get paralyzed. How many people will die,” he said, adding that herd immunity via immunization is possible, but that is not an option for us right now given that there are not vaccines available.

Instead of this, Indians should continue to focus on social distancing and other precautionary measures.

Bhushan also said Assam and Kerala led the country in terms of having the lowest case fatality rate at 0.25% and 0.31% respectively, meaning that only 1 out of 400 infected patients in Assam and only one of 322 patients in Kerala are likely to die of this disease.

Bhushan also said India has not signed any agreement with any company engaged in COVID-19 vaccine research to get priority access, responding to a question of similar moves being made by other countries such as the UK and the US.