Can Herd Immunity Help Stop the Coronavirus? Experts Warn It’s Not That Easy

The outdoor seating area of a restaurant on the market square in Leipzig, Germany, sees customers reemerging as coronavirus lockdowns are scaled back.
Hendrik Schmidt/picture alliance via Getty Images

Dr. Mike Ryan, the World Health Organization's emergencies director, offered some stern words Wednesday about hopes that herd immunity could stymie the coronavirus.

"Humans are not herds," he said.

Herd immunity, a concept in epidemiology that describes how people can collectively stave off infections if some percentage of the population has immunity to a disease, has emerged in recent weeks as a popular talking point among people who argue that coronavirus lockdowns have been too stringent.

But herd immunity in relation to the coronavirus is far from a reality, particularly without a vaccine. Ryan said the term "herd immunity" emerged from veterinary epidemiology, typically involving business decisions of whether to let animals die for the overall health of a herd.

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