It is not a “safe bet” to rely on immunity in Covid-19 as a strategy to deal with the pandemic, an expert warned, adding that flock immunity strategies “will probably never work.”
Speaking to CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” on Monday, Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College London, said that in cities where coronavirus infections have occurred, only 10-15% of the population is likely to be immune.
“And immunity to this thing seems pretty fragile ̵
It also raised questions about the likely success of so-called herd immunity – when a population is allowed some exposure to the virus in order to strengthen immunity among the general population – which was cited by health officials in Sweden, which controversially avoided a block.
Despite a global rush to find a coronavirus vaccine, experts remain unsure whether antibodies found in people who have had the virus actually provide immunity to reinfection.
The best White House health adviser, dr. Anthony Fauci, speculated last month that if Covid-19 behaved like other coronaviruses, “there probably would not have been a long duration of immunity” from the antibodies or the vaccine. Meanwhile, WHO has stated that it is unclear whether those who have already caught the virus once will be immune from recovering it.
Altmann of Imperial College London said Monday that he expected a second wave of Covid-19 and that although governments were much more prepared for an upswing in infections, the situation remained “very, very frightening”.
“Anyone who thinks he has become milder or gone or that the problem will somehow resolve itself is making fun of himself,” he told CNBC. “It’s still a very lethal virus, it infects people very, very promptly. And I think humanity is not used to handling these realities.”
He also stressed that it was difficult to predict whether or not an effective Covid-19 vaccine could be identified.
“The devil is in the details, the vaccines are not that easy,” said Altmann. “There are more than 100 in evidence at the moment and many things can go wrong along the way. At the moment I am not betting.”
David King, a former chief scientific adviser to the UK government, warned Sunday in an interview with Sky News that the UK would have had an additional 27,000 deaths for Covid-19 if it had remained in its current trajectory. To date, 44,305 people have died from Covid-19 in the UK, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University.
Altmann told CNBC that he agreed with this projection “to some extent”, saying that many scientists, immunologists and vaccine experts still felt “very scared” about the pandemic.
He recognized that policy makers had to strike a balance between protecting public health and preventing socioeconomic disasters, but added: “We must continue to be guided by science and medicine and do the right thing. And doing the right thing means all you can do to block the transmission. “
The new coronavirus strain, first reported to WHO in late December, has infected over 11.4 million people and killed 534,825 globally, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, warned last week that the pandemic was accelerating worldwide when economies started to reopen.