Areas of Science Human Biology & Health
Pandemics – COVID-19
Difficulty
Time Required Short (2-5 days)
*Note: For this science project you will need to develop your own experimental procedure. Use the information in the summary tab as a starting place. If you would like to discuss your ideas or need help troubleshooting, use the Ask An Expert forum. Our Experts won't do the work for you, but they will make suggestions and offer guidance if you come to them with specific questions.

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Abstract

One strategy you may have heard suggested for dealing with the COVID-19 epidemic is to let nature take its course and let COVID-19 infect enough of the population for us to reach the herd immunity threshold. Does this make sense as a public health strategy? You can explore this question scientifically using SimPandemic, a free online tool for modeling infectious disease outbreaks.

Before you begin, you will need to know a bit about herd immunity. Herd immunity, sometimes called community immunity, is the concept that that if there are enough people in a population immune to a disease, then they protect others, who are not immune, from contracting the disease. Watch the video and you will see that one way to gain community immunity is to vaccinate individuals. In fact, public health officials often calculate the herd immunity threshold before they start a vaccination campaign. The herd immunity threshold is the minimum number of people who need to be immune to a disease in order to prevent an outbreak from occurring.

If there is no vaccine available, can the herd immunity threshold still be met as the infection naturally spreads? Start exploring the question by working your way through the Preventing Outbreaks with Herd Immunity notebook at SimPandemic. The Sandbox section of the notebook allows you to set your own outbreak scenarios and model what happens. To determine if it makes sense to reach the herd immunity threshold by letting COVID-19 run its course without intervention, you will need to first use the Sandbox to experimentally determine the herd immunity threshold. Then, compare the outcomes (number of infected, deaths, burden on hospital capacity, economic toll, etc.) of reaching the COVID-19 herd immunity threshold naturally versus with a vaccine.

SimPandemic can also be used to explore a number of other herd immunity-related questions. For example:

  • Is the herd immunity threshold the same for every virus? If not, what viral factor(s) cause the threshold to increase or decrease?
  • Choose a virus that interests you, like measles, smallpox, or polio. Knowing that it is impossible to vaccinate everyone, what would your minimum goals be for a successful vaccination campaign to ensure that an outbreak of that virus does not occur?
  • What would happen if a cruise ship full of infected COVID-19 individuals disembarked in a city that had already met the herd immunity threshold for COVID-19? Is it possible to overwhelm the herd immunity threshold with a large influx of infected individuals?

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Credits

Sandra Slutz, PhD, Science Buddies

Cite This Page

General citation information is provided here. Be sure to check the formatting, including capitalization, for the method you are using and update your citation, as needed.

MLA Style

Slutz, Sandra. "Can Herd Immunity Combat Viral Epidemics like COVID-19?" Science Buddies, 22 Oct. 2020, https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/HumBio_p050/human-biology-health/herd-immunity-simpandemic. Accessed 28 Nov. 2020.

APA Style

Slutz, S. (2020, October 22). Can Herd Immunity Combat Viral Epidemics like COVID-19? Retrieved from https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/HumBio_p050/human-biology-health/herd-immunity-simpandemic


Last edit date: 2020-10-22

Experimental Procedure

For this science project you will need to develop your own experimental procedure. Use the information in the summary tab as a starting place. If you would like to discuss your ideas or need help troubleshooting, use the Ask An Expert forum. Our Experts won't do the work for you, but they will make suggestions and offer guidance if you come to them with specific questions.

If you want a Project Idea with full instructions, please pick one without an asterisk (*) at the end of the title.

Share your story with Science Buddies!

I did this project Yes, I Did This Project! Please log in (or create a free account) to let us know how things went.

Ask an Expert

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