Explained: What is Immunity Debt?

Immunity debt has been brought on by Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs) put in place to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Created On: Jul 16, 2021 18:01 IST
Modified On: Jul 16, 2021 18:40 IST
Explained: What is Immunity Debt?
Explained: What is Immunity Debt?

With the upliftment of COVID-19 induced lockdown, many countries across the world have indicated higher rates of respiratory infections such as influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

According to doctors, this is the immunity debt that has been brought on by Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs) put in place to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The paper titled The impact of COVID-19 nonpharmaceutical interventions on the future dynamics of endemic infections by Rachel E. Baker highlighted this issue. 

What is Immunity Debt?

Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs) such as social distancing and hand hygiene have been employed to reduce the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, yet these measures have had unintended consequences for other respiratory infections as well. 

Possibility of unseasonal outbreaks

"Disruptions to the seasonal transmission patterns of the respiratory diseases may have consequences for the timing and severity of future outbreaks," the paper mentioned. 

When we are constantly exposed to infectious agents, we are boosting our immune response but if we have reduced exposure to viruses, germs and bacteria, we will be immune-deprived. This gives rise to unseasonal outbreaks with greater severity than usual. 

The case of New Zealand

Due to its stringent COVID-19 lockdown, where COVID-19 is dormant, New Zealand is now fighting another respiratory virus, RSV. 

This is because the children in New Zealand were mostly stuck indoors amid COVID-19 induced lockdown and were underexposed to germs. 

New Zealand witnesses a peak in respiratory infection cases from June to September every year, however, in 2020, the country experienced the complete absence of an annual winter influenza epidemic. As per a study, the country witnessed a 99.9% reduction in flu cases and a 98% reduction in RSV. 

In 2021, the children have been more vulnerable than usual to the same viruses. The country reported 969 cases in five weeks compared with an average of 1,743 cases over the entire 29-week winter season in the five years before the pandemic. 

As per the experts, the recent surge in RSV cases has yet to reach a plateau as there is a young cohort of children from last year, plus a new cohort this year, who have not been exposed to the seasonal virus.

About RSV

What is it?

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms. 


The symptoms of RSV are as follows: 

1- Runny nose
2- Decrease in appetite
3- Coughing
4- Sneezing
5- Fever
6- Wheezing

The symptoms usually reflect within 4-6 days after getting infected and appear in stages. 

Recovery Period

Usually, people recover in 1-2 weeks but it can prove to be serious for infants and older adults. 


While there is no specific treatment for RSV infection, consuming over the counter fever reducers and pain relievers, drinking enough fluids to prevent dehydration may provide some relief to the symptoms. 


Healthy individuals must follow the below-mentioned measures to contain the spread of RSV:

1- When an infected person coughs or sneezes.
2- Direct contact with the virus. 
3- Touch a surface that may have a virus on it and then touch your face before sanitizing or washing your hands.  


1- Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your upper shirt sleeve.
2- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water.
3- Avoid close contact with others.
4- Clean frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs and mobile devices. 

Individuals can follow the above-mentioned pointers to prevent themselves from getting infected with RSV. 

To sum up, there is a need to reassess the role of NPIs and analysis of most effective components to prevent respiratory virus transmission and infection. This might yield new and sustainable interventions that may minimise and prevent seasonal and epidemic respiratory viral illnesses in the future.

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