“Experts are beginning to believe that the country is on the verge of achieving something that hardly seemed possible weeks ago: herd immunity”. With this resounding sentence, the prestigious medical journal The Lancet gives a brief review of the pandemic situation in Spain.
At a time when the Netherlands is reintroducing social distance, masks and reinforcing other anticovid measures due to the increase in contagions, or the United Kingdom has an accumulated incidence 20 times higher than in Spain, the figures for Spain invite optimism. An optimism, however, which, with the arrival of cold weather, can only be moderate.
There are a handful of elements that make The Lancet raise the possibility that Spain is close to herd immunity. The first is the vaccination rate. At present, Spain already has more than 80% of the population vaccinated with a complete vaccination schedule. This percentage places them in third place in the world ranking and, as far as we know, coverage will be higher in the coming days as the third dose is injected in risk groups (together with the flu campaign) and the two million vaccinated with Janssen go on to receive a booster dose with RNA vaccines.
The second element is the good evolution of the epidemiological data, not only in the vaccinated, but also in children and adolescents (vaccinated or not). In the 12 to 19 year age group (who now also have rates above 80%), the infection rate has fallen from 154 to 30 per 100,000 people. But in children under 12 years of age (a group still unvaccinated), the rate has also plummeted from 150 to 54 per 100,000. It is this last figure that gives rise to talk of ‘herd immunity’.
If we look at countries such as Denmark and Norway (both countries with worse vaccination rates), we see that the infection curve has tended to rise as social distancing measures have been withdrawn. This is something that is not clearly seen in Spain, but it is true that the weather has helped. Winter in northern European countries has arrived earlier and, in the coming weeks, we will see the effect of the change in the behavior of the population on the Spanish incidence. It will be then when we will start to see if “herd immunity” is near or not.
Be that as it may, we seem to be approaching the point in the pandemic where the returns on health measures start to be diminishing. The “zero COVID” strategy has already proved very problematic where it has been applied and countries such as China fear the effect of the delta variant in the country: everything seems to indicate that we have to learn to live with the virus and it does not make sense to wait much longer before introducing permanent rules. Immunity or no immunity, in the coming months we will have to address this debate once and for all.