Why Herd Immunity Is Far Superior to Lockdowns

This is a first stab at explaining why the Swedish herd immunity approach has worked out better than the lockdown approach. If this is understood, then the people advocating lockdowns cannot defend their approach. It means that putting a country through more lockdowns is the wrong thing to do. The explanation here is not the harm caused by lockdowns per se in causing depression, unemployment, suicides, and related problems. Those effects are not being considered here. They add significantly to the overall argument but they are not the substance of the reasoning that follows. It is this reasoning that appears to be absent from public discussion at this time. The goal of this blog is to persuade that the herd immunity approach makes a great deal of sense, but the lockdown approach does not.

In this context of herd immunity vs. lockdown, success in defending against a contagious disease means fewer people having to be hospitalized and fewer people dying. This success occurs when fewer vulnerable people contract the disease. The population as a whole has vulnerable people, which in this case means older people with co-morbidities, mainly people of age 80 and older, but also the age bracket 70-80 cannot be ignored, or younger people who have serious co-morbidities.

The difference between herd immunity and lockdowns is in the exposure that the vulnerable have to the invulnerable people who catch the disease but survive it handily. The invulnerable people can pass on the disease by contagion during its earlier stages of attack on them and while they are fighting it off and recovering. After recovery, their contagion effect goes way down. They’ve battled the bug and it’s eliminated from their bodies. At that point, they don’t or can’t pass it on to the vulnerable. They’re not contagious.

The herd immunity strategy is to get the invulnerable people in and through the contagious stage as soon as possible, so that they can no longer pass it on to the vulnerable elderly people. Herd immunity is mainly a matter of the young and healthy getting the bug and whipping it so that they cannot give it to the elderly and less healthy.

The older people MUST come into contact with younger people, even with lockdowns. This is a necessity. The idea of herd immunity is that this contact be with younger people who’ve beaten the bug by their immune responses, so that they are no longer able to spread it. Its contagious property is nil from them as a source.

Everything the older people need cannot be delivered to the older by walling them off in their homes or nursing homes or whatever. In general, the elderly interact with younger people for all sorts of services. Suppose something needs to be repaired inside the home, and there are many such things, such as gas furnace, dead car battery, electric circuit, hot water heater, sump pump, refrigerator, etc. Then they will be dealing with younger people coming into their homes. The elderly need to shop for food, and every such interaction brings them into contact with younger people in stores, be they the help or other customers. If they eat out, again they must interact. If they need something that is sold in a hardware store or any number of other kinds of stores, they interact with younger people. To get some services, they must present themselves at offices of doctors.

All of these types of interactions will be far safer once these younger people have achieved herd immunity, which for the latter younger group has relatively low risk in the present case of COVID. But the same considerations apply to the older people within this relatively invulnerable group. The people in their 30s, 40s and 50s have somewhat elevated risk but if the younger people with whom they interact have already been exposed and survived, then they too will be safer in dealing with them because the contagion has been diminished greatly.

With the herd immunity approach, in a rather short period of time (say 2 weeks) that the contagion spreads among the younger, the elderly can avoid contacts. After that, there is much less chance of the elderly catching the disease from their contacts with the younger, and such contacts are unavoidable, because lockdowns can’t go on indefinitely.

In the lockdown approach, the spread of the disease is slowed down among the invulnerable. But this means that as time passes and the older people necessarily have contacts with younger people, they are more likely to come into contact with younger people who have not yet gotten and beaten the disease. This means there is a greater chance with lockdowns of a vulnerable person coming into contact with a contagious younger person. That means a greater risk of catching the disease, being hospitalized and dying. The more non-contagious people there are in the population, the lower the chance of vulnerable people meeting contagious people. Recall that meetings of old and young cannot be avoided in the nature of how exchange economies work. Older people depend heavily on younger people. Lower chances of vulnerable older people interacting with younger contagious people is precisely why herd immunity works. Locking everyone up for weeks and weeks and weeks accomplishes nothing but spreading out in time and place the presence of contagious people!

This explains why lockdowns fail and why herd immunity succeeds.

Many states in America have “managed” or “graduated” lockdown strategies. They look for “hot spots” where COVID cases are appearing and then they try to stem them by locking down specific areas or places. This is exactly the wrong thing to do if herd immunity is superior to lockdowns for the reasons cited, the main reason being that herd immunity lowers the chance that a vulnerable member of the population comes into contact with an invulnerable younger person who happens to be in the contagious stage. The idea is to get these younger people into and through the contagious stage as quickly as possible, not to prolong the uncertainty by selective lockdowns.

More cases are not bad if they are among the invulnerable. They are troublesome when they are among the vulnerable. Indeed the more cases there are among the sturdy and young invulnerable (because they have strong immune systems) the faster that herd immunity is approached, and the less the chance of the vulnerable being infected at some point in the future by interacting with a contagious case.

If, for whatever reason, real or specious, there arises a second wave or third wave or fears of such things, their presence confirms that failure of lockdowns, and further lockdowns will be completely uncalled for. They’ll make the situation worse. They won’t remedy it to any degree. The correct thing to do is to end the lockdown mentality and method with the understanding that herd immunity is the sensible way to go.


8:43 pm on October 31, 2020