Why is it ‘good’ for healthy people to get the coronavirus?

Many people in the Netherlands will be infected with the coronavirus, Rutte said during his speech. And that is necessary, so that a ‘group immunity’ is built up in a controlled manner. But how does that work, group immunity?

“The virus is among us and will remain among us for the time being,” said Prime Minister Mark Rutte when he addressed the Dutch population. And that is why it is important that healthy people, who are not included in the risk groups, become ill in phases.

But why is it necessary? We asked Menno de Jong, a virologist at the Amsterdam UMC.  

Protect people in poor health

“Those who have had the virus become immune to it and therefore cannot get sick again”, De Jong explains. The more people get and cure the virus, the more people become immune.

“And then you speak of an increasing group immunity.”

And this is how it works with viruses: if the number of people who are not more susceptible to the virus is a bit larger than the number of people who are still susceptible, the virus will no longer have the chance to spread. “To really stop the epidemic, that would have to be achieved, ” says De Jong. “This creates a kind of shell of protected people around the unprotected, susceptible people.”

Those susceptible people therefore include the elderly and people with other health problems.

“We all have to do it together. I count on you.’

60 percent immune

De Jong and his colleagues think that if 60 percent of people are cured from the virus, the virus will no longer be able to spread properly. “You would like to see that now in this situation.”

And that will not be achieved with a lockdown, such as in Italy and Spain. De Jong explains why:

“You have to see it this way. Now that everyone stays in there, everyone is hiding, as it were. Few people get sick. And that is beneficial, you could say, of course, but if those people leave their homes, then that virus is still there and most are still susceptible so you can still have a major epidemic. The virus is not just gone. ”

Lockdown is not useful for the Netherlands

A lockdown only makes sense in two situations, De Jong says:

1: If there is still too much pressure on hospitals despite the current measures, especially the ICU departments. “Then you have to reduce the number of infected people even further, and then it is best for everyone to stay completely at home.” So it may be that this will happen in the Netherlands, says De Jong, if the pressure on healthcare becomes too great. “But that is not the case now.”

2: If a vaccine is in sight, in the short term, a lockdown can also be useful. “Then you only have to paralyze daily life until people can be vaccinated.”

But: a vaccine is not yet in sight. “That will take at least another year before it is found, tested and on the market. And then it has to reach everyone. You cannot just shut down a country for a year, that is very difficult to achieve.”

‘Best solution’

Whether De Jong is worried? “Yes, of course, such a virus does something to a society, we all notice that. The measures are also great.”

On the other hand, de Jong also sees that the choices made by the cabinet are ‘the right choices’. “We cannot go into hiding en masse for this virus. It makes no sense. So this is the best solution, provided we keep a good finger on the pulse.”

How do you know if you have achieved that ‘group immunity’? 

In various regions in the Netherlands, only people aged 70 years or older are tested who also display serious symptoms of disease. This was decided due to the shortage of testing, so only the tip of the iceberg is tested. 

How do we know when enough people have been cured of the virus, so that the desired ‘group immunity’ has been achieved? 

Virologist Menno de Jong knows that tests are on the way to see whether people have produced antibodies for the virus on a large scale. “If an antibody is made, it means that the person being tested has healed and is therefore immune to the virus.”

Those tests are coming

Those tests are coming. “If those tests are available, samples can be taken throughout the Netherlands. There are good, scientific models for this. You cannot test the entire country, but with those models we still get a good idea of ​​how many people have had the virus . “

RIVM will also look specifically at children to see how many children are infected and how contagious they are. “RIVM is already organizing this.” Among other things, these data can be used to decide whether the schools could open again in the future or not.

Sentinel stations

In addition, there are so-called ‘monitoring stations’, where random checks are carried out every year to determine whether there is an influenza epidemic in the Netherlands. De Jong knows that these monitoring stations, which are spread all over the country, are now also being examined. “And that kind of information also gives an impression of how much of mild infections the Dutch population has already had.”

De Jong calls that type of data ‘important and decisive for the coming period’. “In the Netherlands we have enough knowledge, skills, capacity and places to do this. So we are doing well.”