Herd mentality: What is herd mentality? How does it relate to COVID-19?

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Questions about herd mentality emerged yesterday following an interview with Donald Trump. The President spoke at a televised town hall meeting, where he opened up about his COVID strategy. He spoke about “herd mentality” as an aspect of his policy, prompting questions from the general public.

What is herd mentality?

Speaking in a town hall on Tuesday, the President said people would develop a “herd mentality”.

He said: “You’ll develop, you’ll develop herd, like a herd mentality.

“It’s going to be, it’s going to be herd-developed, and that’s going to happen. That will all happen.

“But with a vaccine, I think it will go away very quickly.”

Herd mentality, otherwise known as mob mentality or pack mentality, refers to a collective influence on behaviour.

Crowds which all share one common view or goal may force other members into a behavioural change in their favour.

Herd mentality has nothing to do with COVID-19, as it is a social rather than medical phenomenon, and what Mr Trump was likely referring to was herd “immunity”.

What is herd immunity?

Herd immunity is a phrase which has regularly emerged this year as a potential solution to the pandemic.

The concept refers to population protection from disease via mass inoculation.

Two methods can achieve this immunity; large-scale vaccination or allowing the disease to “run its course”.

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Experts regard the latter option with significant concern, as herd immunity requires 60 percent of the population to contract a given disease.

Doing so with COVID-19 would result in millions of deaths, both in the US and worldwide.

Australian epidemiologist Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz confirmed herd immunity without a vaccine is a dangerous pursuit.

Writing about his country in the Guardian, he said: “The problem with herd immunity is that it really hinges on vaccination.”

“Without a vaccine, the only way to become immune to a disease is to get it and live through, which makes the strategy a whole lot more fatal.”

He said herd immunity in Australia could require 15 to 17 million coronavirus infections.

He added: “Including all the asymptomatic cases (people who get the disease but never experience symptoms), around three to six out of every thousand infected will die.

“Multiplying those numbers, we can see that, if we pursue herd immunity, the best-case scenario has between 43,000 and 100,000 people in Australia dying.”

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