What is 'herd immunity' for coronavirus, and should the US be using it?

Should the US fight coronavirus with the ‘herd immunity strategy’?

Former WSJ editorial board member Stephen Moore discusses how the coronavirus is impacting the global economy and life.

Some health experts, particularly in the U.K., have suggested that the "herd immunity" strategy could be an effective way to contain the new coronavirus.

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The herd immunity, or "community immunity," strategy is the act of allowing a community to develop an immunity to an illness through a vaccine. Once the majority of a population has developed immunity, it becomes less likely for others to be exposed to it in the future.

Former Wall Street Journal editorial board member Stephen Moore told "Mornings with Maria" on Friday that he thinks this strategy is better "than putting 100 million or 200 million people on lockdown."

Shoppers wear masks as they exit a Costco warehouse Saturday, March 14, 2020, in Santa Clarita, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

"I just think that if we continue with four or five weeks of an economic shutdown. … We have to look at the human toll of that, which could be far greater than that of coronavirus," Moore said, adding later, "I wonder whether the government is making the right cost-benefit analysis here."

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The flu vaccine is an example of community immunity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define a vaccine as "a product that produces immunity therefore protecting the body from the disease."

COVID-19, however, is not just a flu, and the majority of the world's population has not been exposed to the virus. Therefore, some are concerned that the herd immunity strategy could potentially be very harmful for communities.

A gate area at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport is crowded with travelers awaiting Delta flight 1420 to Atlanta Saturday, March 14, 2020. (AP Photo/John Scalzi)

The U.K. government's top health experts considered herd immunity as a viable option to contain COVID-19 for several days, but on March 17, Imperial College London's COVID-19 Response Team published a government-commissioned study led by pandemic response expert Neil Ferguson explaining why the strategy won't work with the U.K.'s state-funded health care system.

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The study found that the herd strategy, which the team refers to as the "mitigation" strategy, "would still likely result in hundreds of thousands of deaths and health systems (most notably intensive care units) being overwhelmed many times over."

MIT's Technology Review magazine called the herd strategy "disastrous," similarly saying that "so many people will become severely ill — and a sudden boom in sick people needing hospital or ICU care will overwhelm hospitals."

The Imperial study also found that suppressing the virus instead would lead to a more effective and economically viable short-term impact, though the long-term impact is unknown.

A person walks past a closed craft store, Tuesday, March 17, 2020, in Havertown, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

"While experience in China and now South Korea show that suppression is possible in the short term, it remains to be seen whether it is possible long-term, and whether the social and economic costs of the interventions adopted thus far can be reduced," the study reads.

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The U.K. has since decided to void all herd immunity plans and take a route more similar to that of the U.S.

President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence's COVID-19 Task Force have encouraged the act of social distancing in recent weeks. Schools, businesses and even government offices have either closed or turned to work-from-home policies until further notice.

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