Social media posts suggesting the World Health Organization changed its definition of herd immunity by removing the words "herd immunity is achieved by previous infection," to boost vaccinations, are misleading.
BOOM found that while these specific words were removed on the November 13, 2020 update of its Q&A section, they were re-inserted in the December 31, 2020 update of the same question.
BOOM also contacted officials at WHO who stated that the term was removed only because the apex health body does not believe in putting more people at risk by exposing them to the virus to achieve herd immunity.
A viral tweet by an American footballer, Russell Okung, contains two screenshots of the WHO website wherein the definition of herd immunity is different at two-time intervals.
Okung has captioned this tweet as "Very 1984", thus insinuating that the WHO is trying to promote vaccination at the behest of pharmaceutical companies. 1984 is a dystopian novel where the world only functions under the watchful gaze of an entity called 'Big Brother' who also governs everybody's actions.
One image shows that in the Q&A updated in June 2020, herd immunity is defined as " the indirect protection from an infectious disease that happens when a population is immune either through vaccination or immunity developed through previous infection. This means that even people who have not been infected, or in whom an infection has not triggered an immune response, they are protected because people around them who are immune can act as buffers between them and an infected person. The threshold for establishing herd immunity for COVID-19 is yet not clear."
The definition in the other image which shows that the Q&A was updated on November 13, 2020 reads, " Herd immunity', also known as 'population immunity', is the indirect protection from an infectious disease, is a concept used for vaccination, in which a population can be protected from a certain virus if a threshold of vaccination is achieved. Herd immunity is achieved by protecting people from a virus, not by exposing them to it.
Okung's tweet was retweeted close to 7,000 times.
WHO revised the answers on December 31, 2020, while this was tweeted on December 24, 2020.
Okung's tweet contains two screenshots from June and November 2020. We ran a search for finding the present answer on the website as well as the archives of the specific pages.
The current definition which was updated on December 31, 2020 reads " 'Herd immunity', also known as 'population immunity', is the indirect protection from an infectious disease that happens when a population is immune either through vaccination or immunity developed through previous infection. WHO supports achieving 'herd immunity' through vaccination, not by allowing a disease to spread through any segment of the population, as this would result in unnecessary cases and deaths.
Herd immunity against COVID-19 should be achieved by protecting people through vaccination, not by exposing them to the pathogen that causes the disease."
Archives from the months of October 2020 and December 2020 do show the two definitions mentioned by Okung in his tweets.
The WHO however, denies that the definition was changed to boost vaccinations. In an emailed response, the WHO said, " WHO supports achieving 'herd immunity' through vaccination, not by allowing a disease to spread through population, as this would result in unnecessary cases and deaths. The latter is especially concerning in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, as some people are advocating for a dangerous form of population immunity despite the existence of evidence-based measures people can and should take to protect themselves.
This is why our updated Q&A piece emphasizes vaccination but because this has generated questions we'll be updating our content to sharpen the distinction between the benefits of vaccination, and our concerns about letting a disease spread through populations."
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