Health and Healthcare Systems

WHO warns herd immunity strategy 'unethical' and other top COVID-19 stories

A physiotherapist, wearing a protective mask and a protective suit, works in a pulmonology unit at the hospital in Vannes where patients suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are treated, France, October 12, 2020. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

An elderly patient being treated for COVID-19 in France, where numbers in intensive care have spiked. Image: REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

Kate Whiting
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  • This daily round-up brings you a selection of the latest news updates on the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, as well as tips and tools to help you stay informed and protected.
  • Top stories: WHO chief warns herd immunity strategy 'unethical'; Johnson & Johnson pauses vaccine trials; and new restrictions in the Czech Republic.

1. How COVID-19 is affecting the globe

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 have now passed 37.8 million globally, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. The number of confirmed deaths stands at over 1.08 million.

Russia’s coronavirus cases rose by 13,868 on Tuesday, a new daily record since the start of the outbreak early this year, pushing the overall total number of infections to 1,326,178.

The number of people being treated in French intensive care units for COVID-19 exceeded 1,500 on Monday for the first time since May 27, reports Reuters. Prime Minister Jean Castex has not ruled out imposing local lockdowns.

Bars, restaurants and clubs in the Czech Republic have been ordered to close from Wednesday, while schools will shift to distance learning as the country tackles the strongest surge in Europe.

India’s total coronavirus cases rose by 55,342 in the last 24 hours to 7.18 million, the lowest daily rise since mid-August, data from the health ministry showed.

Mainland China has reported its first locally transmitted COVID-19 infections in nearly two months. It comes as Qingdao launched a city-wide testing drive after discovering new cases linked to a hospital designated to treat imported infections.

Cases in Argentina have passed 900,000, as the number of infections in populated parts of the interior continue to grow. The death toll has reached 24,186, the Health Ministry said.

Johnson & Johnson has paused its COVID-19 vaccine candidate clinical trials due to an unexplained illness in one of the participants. It said: "Adverse events... are an expected part of any clinical study, especially large studies."

 Number of COVID-19 cases reported weekly by WHO Region, and global deaths, 30 December 2019 through 04 October 2020.
How COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the globe. Image: WHO

2. WHO chief warns: Herd immunity strategy is unethical

Controlling COVID-19 by letting it spread unchecked throughout the population is "unethical" and "not an option", the World Health Organization's Director General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has warned.

Speaking at a media briefing on 12 October, Dr Tedros explained the way the concept of herd immunity is discussed is incorrect.

He said: "There has been some discussion recently about the concept of reaching so-called 'herd immunity' by letting the virus spread.

"Herd immunity is a concept used for vaccination, in which a population can be protected from a certain virus if a threshold of vaccination is reached."


Achieving herd immunity against measles requires about 95% of a population to be vaccinated, he said, while the remaining 5% would be protected by the fact that measles will not spread among those who are vaccinated.

"Never in the history of public health has herd immunity been used as a strategy for responding to an outbreak, let alone a pandemic. It is scientifically and ethically problematic.

"Letting the virus circulate unchecked means allowing unnecessary infections, suffering and death... Allowing a dangerous virus that we don’t fully understand to run free is simply unethical. It’s not an option."

But there are many things countries can do to control transmission and save lives, he added: "Prevent amplifying events. Protect the vulnerable. Empower, educate and engage communities.

"And persist with the same tools that we have been advocating since day one: find, isolate, test and care for cases, and trace and quarantine their contacts."

3. Mother-to-newborn transmission 'rare'

The risk of mothers passing on the SARS-CoV-2 virus to their newborn babies is low, according to a study in New York.

Researchers looked at 101 babies born to mothers with COVID-19, including 10 whose mothers had been severely ill. They found only 2 of the babies tested positive for the virus, but didn't show any symptoms.

Of the 55 babies who were then followed through the first two weeks of their life, all of them remained healthy.

The doctors from New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center wrote in JAMA Pediatrics: "These findings suggest that during the COVID-19 pandemic, separation of affected mothers and newborns may not be warranted, and direct breastfeeding appears to be safe."

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