Infectious Diseases

Only 7% Have Had COVID-19 in England: We are Far, Far Away From Achieving Herd Immunity

Posted on 1 June 2020

Last week, the Office for National Statistics released their data from the COVID-19 infection survey, which examines infections in the community population (not institutional settings like hospitals and care homes). Among their findings: of those individuals tested, 6.78% were positive for antibodies against COVID-19 – around 1 in 15 people.

When a sufficient proportion of the population becomes immune to a disease, the spread of that disease is slowed or halted entirely – this is known as herd immunity. Herd immunity is achieved through natural means (people who have previously been infected acquire immunity), and through vaccination. Attaining herd immunity usually requires around 70% to 90% of the population to be immune.

This GIF Only Takes 6 Seconds To Show How Herd Immunity Works ...
Herd immunity in the context of vaccination. Yellow dots represent those who are immunised, blue dots are not immunised, and red lines show the spread of the disease. When enough people are immunised, those who are susceptible are also protected.
This GIF Only Takes 6 Seconds To Show How Herd Immunity Works. (2017). Retrieved 1 June 2020, from https://www.iflscience.com/health-and-medicine/this-gif-only-takes-6-seconds-to-show-how-herd-immunity-works/

The finding that less than 7% tested positive for antibodies against Covid would appear to confirm what was already thought to be the case: that until we have a vaccine, herd immunity is not the answer to stopping the spread of the virus.

The full ONS release can be found here. Below are some of the key findings:

  • Between 11 May and 24 May 2020, an estimated average of 0.24% of the community population – around 133 000 people – had COVID-19 at any given time.
  • Of those testing positive during the study, 21% reported symptoms on the day of their test.
  • Unsurprisingly, healthcare and social care workers were more likely to test positive, while those working from home were less likely to be infected. There was no significant difference in infection rates between males and females.
  • Of those individuals tested, 6.78% (around 1 in 15 people) had antibodies against COVID-19.

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