Amish community first in US to achieve herd immunity

Herd immunity from COVID-19 appears to have been achieved in an unexpected population: the Amish.

Beth Baisch Toronto ON

Herd immunity from COVID-19 appears to have been achieved in an unexpected population: the Amish. According to The Daily Mail, it is believed that the Amish community in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, became the first community in the United States to achieve herd immunity after at least one person in an estimated 90 percent of households became infected with the novel coronavirus.

Although the community initially shuttered schoolhouses and canceled church services like its neighbors, as time wore on and both the pandmic and lockdown measures to control it were increasingly challenged, the community fully resumed worship services including holy kisses and the sharing of cups during communion.

Infections followed, although the exact number is unknown as fewer than 10 percent of the Amish in that particular community consented to be tested. Physician's assistant Pam Cooper from the Parochial Medical Center in New Holland Borough said "It was bad here in the spring; one patient right after another," saying they exhibited the characteristic symptoms of the disease.

The number of cases eased off during summer, and flared again in the fall albeit in lower numbers. Allen Hoover, an Old Order Mennonite and administrator of the Parochial Medical Center, said he has not seen a patient with COVID-19 symptoms in roughly six weeks.

Although deaths in the region appear to have risen, the exact number of deaths from the novel virus is unknown, with many likely being listed as pneumonia. Within the Amish community, the majority have been over 70 years old.

Reaching what is believed to be herd immunity has prompted members of the community to relax prevention efforts such as masking and social distancing. Public health officials have voiced concern that a misplaced perception of herd immunity in the community may compromise the ongoing effort to fight COVID-19 in the state.

Given that the Amish community interacts with their non-Amish neighbors, there are concerns they could still trigger an outbreak. "There could easily still be pockets of the (Amish) community who have not been infected, and if they're infected, there's a real risk of having an outbreak." Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health epidemiology professor David Dowdy.

According to epidemiologist Eric Lofgren from Washington State University, "Herd immunity is only true at a given point of time," he said, adding "It's not a switch that once it gets thrown, you're good. It'll wear off."

While achieving herd immunity has been touted as a goal for getting back to normal, executive director of Community Health at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, Alice Yoder, said "The only true herd immunity that we can bring as a community is for people to be vaccinated."


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