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BSI response to herd immunity and SARS-CoV-2

13 March 2020

In light of current discussions in the media around how herd immunity might be generated and protect the population against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the British Society for Immunology has released the following statement.


Professor Peter Openshaw, Past President of the British Society for Immunology and Professor of Experimental Medicine at Imperial College London, said:

“Herd immunity occurs when a large percentage of the population is protected against a particular disease, stopping the ability of that disease to spread within communities. This protection can either be gained through methods such as vaccination (which induces the body to produce antibodies which protect you against catching the disease) or through enough people in the population having been infected and generating antibodies by their body fighting the pathogen directly.  Modelling studies show that, over time, we can expect 60-80% of the population to be infected with SARS-CoV-2.  Generating herd immunity in the population, and particularly in younger individuals who are less likely to experience serious disease, is one way to stop the disease spreading and provide indirect protection to older, more vulnerable groups.

“SARS-CoV-2 is a novel virus in humans and there is still much that we need to learn about how it affects the human immune system. Because it is so new, we do not yet know how long any protection generated through infection will last.  Some other viruses in the Coronavirus family, such as those that cause common colds, tend to induce immunity that is relatively short lived, at around three months.  However, these viruses have co-evolved with the human immune system over thousands of years meaning they may well have developed methods to manipulate our immune responses.  With the novel SARS-CoV-2, the situation may be very different but we urgently need more research looking at the immune responses of people who have recovered from infection to be sure.”