‘Terrible idea’ that could kill 160k Aussies
Herd immunity is used around the world to protect the population from contagious diseases like measles and rubella.
The concept is based around having enough people in a community immunised to an infection or disease, which effectively stops it from spreading and protects those who are unable to vaccinated.
While the method is hugely successful in some instances, an Australian expert in infectious diseases has said using it to combat COVID-19 would be a "terrible idea".
Dr Sanjaya Senanayake, from the Australian National University, spoke out against the idea of deliberately infecting Australians to prevent future outbreaks of the virus after it was floated around recently.
"Look, it is a terrible idea. It might happen naturally but it shouldn't happen deliberately," Dr Senanayake said on Today this morning.
"The issues with it is that 60 to 70 per cent of the population would have to become naturally infected for herd immunity to occur, for the other 30-40 per cent not to get infected.
"If you look at our Australian population, that means about 160,000. If we say 1 per cent is the fatality rate, 160,000 people would die. If we're really conservative, it might be 16,000."
Dr Senanayake said, looking at the rate of the spread in New York State, it would take about three weeks to deliberately infect Australia, saying the act would "overwhelm" our health care system.
"There'd be between 30 to 300,000 people admitted to hospital. Our health system couldn't cope," he said.
The strategy to get the coronavirus under control was first discussed in the UK, creating murmurs about using herd immunity to draw out Australia's exposure to the virus, but it was quickly shut down.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said yesterday the government would not be taking the herd immunity route - which requires a large portion of Australians to get coronavirus before becoming immune to it.
"Some people have talked about the idea of herd immunity," he said.
"We've rejected that, because herd immunity is 60 per cent of the population on the best advice that we have, 15 million people. If there is a 1 per cent loss of life, that would be a catastrophic loss of human life."
That would be 150,000 deaths.
"So that's not a theory which the Australian government or the national cabinet have been considering or proposing," Mr Hunt said. "We reject it."
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly also flatly refused the idea while talking on Today on Wednesday, stating the measure was simply not something on the radar.
"There are a number of theories as to how to handle this virus, and what you're describing there is the herd immunity theory that was considered in other countries. It's not on our radar at the moment," he said.
"What we're trying to do is to decrease the number of cases that are being seen and the modelling demonstrates what would've happened if we hadn't taken those steps. It would've been absolutely catastrophic.
"Up to 30 per cent of Australians may have got sick, and the death rate would've been extremely high. So we've taken those measures for a reason, and then, how that ends, and how that develops into the future, of course we need to start considering that, but at this point, we're concentrating on the here and now."
A vaccine against COVID-19 could take as long as 18 months to be available publicly the World Health Organisation warned in February.
Originally published as 'Terrible idea' that could kill 160k Aussies