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Let the young out, and India build herd immunity to beat the virus: Top epidemiologist

Epidemiologist Dr Jayaprakash Muliyil, in an exclusive interview to ThePrint, talks of how herd immunity can help until a Covid-19 vaccine is developed, and what it entails.

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New Delhi: India should move towards controlled release of the lockdown so its people develop herd immunity that leaves the virus ineffective, said Dr Jayaprakash Muliyil who is among India’s top epidemiologists.

And one way to do that is to allow the young to go out and do productive work and keep the elderly indoors, the former principal of Christian Medical College, Vellore, said in an exclusive interview to ThePrint.

With the national lockdown extended until 3 May, there are questions if India can survive its economic consequences. Speaking about this, Muliyil said, “When you block something, recovery can take time, India cannot afford to be bankrupt.”

How herd immunity is built in a community

Lockdowns may flatten the curve but cannot completely stall the infection, even if those with flu-like symptoms are separated and quarantined. Covid-19 virus will be active in those who remain asymptomatic, and hence undetectable unless more people are tested. Once these restrictions go with lockdowns lifted and people interact with each other, the virus can make a reappearance and restart the transmission.

In such cases, herd immunity can help, said Muliyil.

Viruses can survive in the population as long as there is a susceptible population to infect, and as more people are infected and they develop antibodies for it, an immunity builds up in the community, he explained.

Antibodies, specific to the viruses, are proteins generated by an infected person’s immune system.

“Even if 50 per cent of the population is infected, they (the infected persons who have developed antibodies) act as a barrier to the virus and offer protection to the other 50 per cent who do not have immunity. This is especially useful till the time a vaccine is developed,” Muliyil said, adding this will make it difficult for the virus to find a new home to grow and multiply, and the disease will no longer spread as an epidemic.

Also read: My virologist dad says coronavirus vaccines won’t be ready for distribution till 2021

Separate strategies for the old and the young

While the immediate objective will be to reach the herd immunity, the rate has to be carefully monitored, said Muliyil.

If it happens all of a sudden, a large number of the population gets infected all together and many would need hospitalisation. “Considering our population, the numbers will be huge. No country in the world can afford to have treatment facilities at such large numbers,” he said.

The only solution is to regulate how it develops, said the epidemiologist, adding this can be done by devising strategies for old who are vulnerable to die and young people who are more resistant to the virus.

“About 8.5% and 12.5% of the population is above 60 and 55 years. If we protect these 10% of people, within families and not in institutions, we can develop herd immunity,” Muliyil said.

Cost of herd immunity

According to the former Vellore medical college principal, youngsters should get a choice whether they want to go out or not. “Those who do, would have to be taught and educated to keep themselves protected and maintain physical distance, especially from the elderly.”

Big gatherings would have to be avoided, said Muliyil, adding work places and shopping centres would have to be redesigned. “If we can do it carefully, (and) if most people understand the logic, we may be able to do a slowdown and stop the spread of the infection.”

But this won’t be without a cost.

“Yes, some people will die but the question is can you reduce it from the expected (toll)?” Muliyil said.

“The alternative is a lockdown for months but the moment you open up, the virus will be back and some people will die. This is why you need to regulate the opening and with community support protect the elderly and keep the young at the forefront,” he added.

According to Muliyil, this process when done with caution will take six months but “our economy will not come to a standstill and our hospitals can also be prepared”.

He said Israel and Sweden are already using this strategy. “People think Britain failed in this approach but that is incorrect. They did not anticipate the load in the hospitals but they are back on track and they will be a stable country soon.”

Also read: It took India 74 days to cross 10,000 Covid-19 cases — much slower than US, UK


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  2. Without a vaccine, building herd immunity means exposing 70 to 80% of the population to the virus. In India, that is 1 Billion people. Assuming a conservative death rate of 10 for every 1000 infections, this is a death sentence for 10 Million people.

    Can we handle 10 Million deaths, and still continue working as normal? Would more than 10 Million people die if the lockdown continues? Difficult questions. It is easy to criticize, comment and throw out impractical ideas. You are looking at just one side of the coin and throwing out ideas without fully analyzing the consequences. . Compare both alternatives without bias if you expect the article to carry credibility.

  3. This virus is spreading fear, hate, mental & physical illness and making jobless which eventually lead to half death even if we are alive,

    We must find method which spread faith,hope,love, good mental and physical health and timely availability of
    food fruits to all which improve immunity .

    Love is what we expect when we work, so lets do work which are necessary for humanity and nature and stop all other
    take this virus as an opportunity to restart with all good and leaving bad behind

  4. This is quite irresponsible, and stupid on the whole. The concept of herd immunity comes into play when a vaccine already exists. What the author suggests is highly impractical and is akin to building sandcastles in the air. Considering it is unknown if infection even confers immunity, the suggestion is backward and baseless. I expect much better from a supposedly top epidemiologist.

  5. Segregation should take place on the those with Co-morbidities. Not all elderly succumb to the disease, but those with co morbidities are at higher risk. they should be isolated and the rest should be allowed to go for work and please stop creating unnecessary panic among the public. by the media.

  6. This so-called Herd immunity is mit a taster concept. And we do not Fully know this virus. So people should stop preaching that we should let young people be out and let them die. This is a strange argument coming from people who wants to champion of human rights and socialist.

  7. >>>“Yes, some people will die but the question is can you reduce it from the expected (toll)?” Muliyil said.

    Why don’t we start with this clown Muliyil ??

  8. Herd immunity is like Santa Claus – a fairy tale for children to believe while the ADULTS do the shopping.

    Let us examine the facts – Nearly 1 million people around the world have DIED – 75000 in Europe, over 100,000 in the USA. In Italy alone over 20,000 people have died and there is no sign of “”herd immunity”” – how many MORE have to die before this “”santa claus”” shows up ? In Britain where they followed this bunkum – their PM, Health Minister and half a dozen others got COVID and nearly kicked the bucket. Now they know better and have abandoned this nonsense.

    Epidemiologists who suggest this pseudo science called “”herd immunity”” need to be laughed out of their profession and locked in an asylum for the insane.

    FYI – We are Human Beings, not a herd of sheep or Cows to be “”culled”” to build herd immunity!

  9. Next claim:-
    ♪\(*^▽^*)/\(*^▽^*)/+ o==[]::::::::::::::::>☜☆

    ☞ This is the formula of the drug which kills all viruses!!

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