Herd immunity unlikely to control COVID-19: opinion article from US NIAID

Simon Collins, HIV i-Base

This opinion piece from the US NIAID reevaluates the relevance of herd immunity for COVID-19 and concludes that this is unlikely to generate long-term protection on a population level.

The article is optimistic that COVID-19 will still become more controlled, with minimal disruption to everyday life, at least in some settings (with vaccine access).

It also clearly shows that the leadership of NIAID want to move public expectations for future control away from potential of eradication such as smallpox.

Instead the article draws parallels with the Spanish influenza in 1918, whose variants were responsible for later pandemics (H2N2 in 1957, H3N2 in 1968, and H1N1 in 2009).


The failure of herd immunity to prevent transmission should not be a surprise given the high incidence new infections in the UK, despite high levels of vaccination and booster shots for vulnerable populations.

The success of current vaccines are clearly shown by the lower rates of hospitalisations and mortality in those with vaccine cover.

However, future risks are largely dependent on the pathogenic properties of new variants and whether broader vaccines are developed that will cope with these.


Morens DM,  Folkers GK,  Fauci AS. The Concept of Classical Herd Immunity May Not Apply to COVID-19. JID, jiac109, doi:10.1093/infdis/jiac109. (31 March 2022).

This report was first published on 4 April 2022.

Links to other websites are current at date of posting but not maintained.