Herd Immunity – on avoiding conspiracy theories

If as Christians, we want to engage with the world around us, it is important that we engage with the facts and stay clear from conspiracy theories.  Conspiracy theories ask us to believe that we cannot believe the evidence in front of us because secret, malign forces are at work.

A good example of this is the way that our society has caught hold of this chilling phrase “herd immunity.”  The conspiracy theory says that #BorisTheButcher deliberately allowed an experiment in our public health and was happy to sacrifice thousands of lives in search of this mythical thing called herd immunity. Now, usually there are clues that a conspiracy theory is running and these normally include the forceful promotion of claims that seem to go against logic. In this case, the obvious point is that the elderly were likely to be most vulnerable to the disease and so if Boris was sacrificing lives, it was likely to be from his own voter base.

But, the point is that the theory revolves around a misunderstanding of what herd immunity is. The only reason it sounds experimental and sinister is because it has been talked about in those tems.

So, here is the thing that might surprise you.

We are still pursuing herd immunity.

And there is a reason for that.  This is because, it is and always has been the only option. You see, herd immunity is what we are always trying to achieve when dealing with a virus. The theory has nothing to do with risking lives and everything to do with a population adjusting and responding to a disease. 

Let’s take an example where there is a vaccine, the winter flu. Now, as you know,  even if we have a vaccine, then it doesn’t offer 100% protection, so even if your grandma gets the flu vaccine for example, it does not completely protect her from the flu. Rather, by being surrounded by people who have a level of immunity, she is less likely to catch the disease from someone closer to her. That’s why in some places school children and front line workers are immunised.

The only way to deal with a virus that is persistent in society is to build up immunity across the community. The ideal way to do that is to find a vaccine. Yet, there has always been a possibility that no vaccine turns up. What then? Well, we cannot lockdown for ever. We can’t just hibernate during COVID season, we can’t live life sticking to 2 metre distances and staying out of our elderly parents’ homes.  So, the only other alternative is that gradually over time we build up a level of immunity as a society. 

No doubt, those kinds of conversations took place amongst scientists and governments around the world right from the start. The question was whether we attempted to build up herm immunity from the start by simply allowing exposure to the virus among the healthy.  There were a couple of problems with that.

  1. In a free and open society, it would be very difficult to allow that level of exposure to younger and healthy people without exposing those at greater risk too.
  2. Models projected that the affect at that stage would be to overwhelm our health services before herd immunity was achieved.
  3. The virus was novel and so we did not know enough about how it would behave. We could not guarantee that people would build up immunity.

That’s why you saw the Prime Minister in an interview talking about some people suggesting we should simply take the virus on the chin and let it out naturally into society before quickly going on to state that this was not feasible.

The positive thing is that whilst we may not find a vaccine -even though there have been some positive early trials, all the time, the scientists involved are building up knowledge of how this virus works. This will help us respond as a society and adapt to it.

Why does this matter to us as Christians? It matters because we want to be those who speak truth in our world.  To do that, we need to avoid conspiracy theories. There are so many real examples of sin and idolatry in our world to challenge without us making up more!

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