The Immunized-Buffer Approach to Sailing through the Corona Pandemic

Ehud Shapiro
Mar 17 · 4 min read

Ehud Shapiro
Department of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics
The Weizmann Institute of Science
Rehovot, Israel
ehud.shapiro@weizmann.ac.il

Abstract

The “Chinese’’ approach to the Corona pandemic is to aim to flatten the curve through social distancing.
The “British’’ approach is to let the public get sick and hope for herd immunity.
Neither offers a solution to the high-risk population of the sick and elderly. The Chinese model implies that people at risk remain at risk indefinitely, as long as the Corona (SARS-CoV-2) virus has not been eradicated or an effective vaccine has been broadly administered. The British model implies that the people at risk are being taken care of by people who are very likely to get infected, and then infect the people at risk to their peril.

Here we propose a new approach, termed immunized buffer, that integrates the two. We propose to start with the Chinese model and end with the British model, while protecting the sick and elderly during the transition between the two. Our approach offers the population at risk a way to successfully cross the dire straights of the pandemic, until the safe haven of herd immunity has been reached. The approach is applicable to countries with effective government as well as to communities with a strong social fabric and a culture of mutual responsibility and mutual support.

The “Chinese’’ and “British’’ Approaches to Facing the Corona Pandemic

The “Chinese’’ approach to the Corona pandemic is to flatten the curve through enforced social distancing. China and countries that follow suit such as South Korea seem to have succeeded in curbing the outbreak after only a tiny fraction of the population has been infected. However, as long as the Corona (SARS-CoV-2) virus has not been eradicated from within the country, a lifting of the social-distancing measures risks a renewed outbreak, as the vast majority of the population has not become immune yet.
And even if a country is almost ``clean’’, for example Taiwan, lifting travel restriction while the disease is still active in other countries risks the same.

The alternative “British’’ approach to the pandemic is to strictly isolate only the elderly and the sick, and let the rest of the population get infected and, hopefully, recover. When a sufficiently-large fraction of the population has been infected and recovered, herd immunity is obtained and the strict measures to protect the populations at risk could be lessened.

Neither offers a solution to the high-risk population of the sick and elderly. The Chinese model implies that people at risk remain at risk indefinitely, as long as the Corona virus has not been eradicated or a safe and effective vaccine becomes available. The British model implies that the people at risk are being taken care of by people who are very likely to get infected, and then infect these people at risk to their peril.

The Immunized-Buffer Approach to Facing the Corona Pandemic

Here we propose a new approach, termed immunized buffer, that integrates the two. We propose to start with the Chinese model and end with the British model, while protecting the sick and elderly during the transition between the two. Our key idea is to use young and able people, who got sick and recovered, as as active buffer between the population at risk and the population at large. Depending on the governance mechanism in the country, or the social norms in the community, such people can be drafted, recruited, or they may volunteer, into what may be called immune teams. Immune teams will serve as support staff in houses for the elderly and in hospitals, possibly after going through quick emergency training that will allow them to also serve as nurses. Immune teams will replace support and possibly also medical staff who got sick or are in isolation, thus help prevent the collapse of these systems. When their numbers grow, they will also replace healthy personnel who has not contacted the disease yet, to further protect the population at risk from being infected. As medical staff recover, they return to their positions, slowly replacing the less-trained immune teams. When herd immunity is achieved, including in the support and medical staff, life can go back to normal.

The approach capitalizes on identifying a large and growing cohort of young and able people who got sick and recovered. Hence, much broader testing of the population is needed, until the recruitment of immune teams for taking care of the entire population at risk is achieved. This must include testing of people with mild symptoms, as well as testing relatives friends and neighbours of people who got sick.

The way of recruiting immune teams may vary among countries and communities:
1. Financial compensation: Government and communities may offer attractive compensation to recovered young and able people to join immune teams. Given the economic slowdown, many of them will be unemployed or on leave.
2. “Order 8’’: Israel has a large reserve army, and in times of emergency may recruit any reserve soldier on the spot using so called “Order 8’’. The IDF Medical Corps may create special “immune squads’’ and recruit into them reserve soldiers that fit the criteria, as well as take them through emergency training to serve as nurses.
3. Volunteers: Communities low on resources but with a strong social fabric can encourage and pressure
those who qualify to work as immune teams.
4. International Aid: Countries that had an outbreak that has been contained, notably China, may send their recovered citizens as immune teams to other countries.

In summary, the approach presented here aims to integrate the Chinese and British models, in order to allow the population at risk a way to successfully cross the dire straights of the pandemic, until the safe haven of herd immunity has been reached.

Written by

Professor of Computer Science and Biology at the Weizmann Institute of Science

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