A mathematical model reveals the influence of population heterogeneity on herd immunity to SARS-CoV-2

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Science  23 Jun 2020:
DOI: 10.1126/science.abc6810


Despite various levels of preventive measures, in 2020 many countries have suffered severely from the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) virus. We show that population heterogeneity can significantly impact disease-induced immunity as the proportion infected in groups with the highest contact rates is greater than in groups with low contact rates. We estimate that if R0 = 2.5 in an age-structured community with mixing rates fitted to social activity then the disease-induced herd immunity level can be around 43%, which is substantially less than the classical herd immunity level of 60% obtained through homogeneous immunization of the population. Our estimates should be interpreted as an illustration of how population heterogeneity affects herd immunity, rather than an exact value or even a best estimate.

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