An Illinois State University biomathematician is reminding people that herd immunity won’t be a magical COVID-19 solution that happens on its own without widespread vaccination.
Olcay Akman leads ISU’s biomathematics program and has modeled COVID-19 for months. His current model—like many others—now projects a U.S. death toll of around 250,000 by mid-October. The current death toll is around 178,000.
Akman said models are a useful tool to predict the impact of competing strategies for containing COVID-19. He said the best approaches are still robust testing and contact tracing programs, vigilant social distancing, and eventually vaccination.
“If my recommendations are followed, my forecast would turn out to be wrong. My forecast would be an overestimate of deaths, and believe me, nothing would make me happier,” said Akman, adding there are still misconceptions about of herd immunity, or the idea that enough people become immune to an infectious disease that it’s no longer likely to spread.
“We need to remember that herd immunity is achieved through vaccination, not by infecting people through the disease,” Akman said. “That’s how we eradicated measles. Measles was eradicated by vaccinating 19 of 20 people of our population. The reason measles is showing up again in anti-vaccination circles is a testament that vaccination is going to be the solution, I think, to lowering the death toll (for COVID-19).”
Akman said Sweden is a good case study on not to do herd immunity. It was one of the few countries that didn’t go into lockdown, and now critics point to the country’s relatively high rate of death per 100,000 population.
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