As cases stay steady, whispers around herd immunity surface again
As one of the countries hit earliest and hardest by the Covid-19 pandemic, Spain struck back in big fashion with a hard lockdown as the virus swept through the country. Since that first lockdown, however, Spain has fared better than a lot of its European neighbours. Also, as the director of Spain’s Centre for the Coordination of Health Alerts and Emergencies (CCAES) admitted this week that the health system in Spain only detected ‘one in ten cases’ during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, there may have been many more people with original immunity than previously thought. The hospitality sector has managed to stay open in most regions, albeit with reduced operating hours, even through a surge in cases during the winter of 2020-21. This may be a contributing factor to the country seeming close to the ‘magical’ herd immunity.
While other European countries returned to lockdowns, Spain’s regions for the most part tried to keep some level of normality, with leisure activities and gyms staying open. A slow start to their vaccination campaign mirrored the majority of their neighbours, but now Spain has overtaken countries such as the US and UK with over 80% of the population fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Taking these numbers into account, experts are starting to believe the country is on the cusp of something that didn’t seem possible even recently – Herd Immunity.
“We still don’t know the exact proportion of the population that needs to be immune to reach herd immunity for SARS-CoV-2, as we need to better understand the duration and protection of transmission generated from both vaccination and previous COVID-19 infection”, explains Jesús Rodríguez Baño, head of infectious diseases at the Virgen de la Macarena Hospital in Seville, Spain. “However, the situation in Spain might provide some clues: after leaving behind most of the control measures in the population, the infection rate (and particularly the hospital admission rate) has been going down, and this is the opposite of what happened in previous waves; the only plausible explanation is the very high rate of vaccination in the country.”
Rodríguez Baño is hopeful that winter 2021–22 in Spain will be something much more normal than experienced last year. “However, we must be prudent in our predictions. The third booster dose is already being administered in high-risk groups here in Spain, and we must still see whether a third dose (or a yearly dose) is needed for everyone. Also, new variants might cause problems.”
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