If the Objective is Herd Immunity, on Whom Should it be Built?

Christian Gollier, (EconPol Europe, Toulouse School of Economics, University of Toulouse-Capitole)

In the absence of a treatment or vaccine, there are two options available for managing Covid-19: long confinement of a large proportion of the population and the associated economic costs (Plan A), or to progressively build herd immunity by exposing the population to the virus (Plan B). But attaining herd immunity requires governments to expose a fraction of the population to the virus, and to recognize that some people in this targeted population will die. Christian Gollier (EconPol Europe, Toulouse School of Economics, University of Toulouse-Capitole) uses standardized guidelines to identify ‘optimal’ herd immunity policies but warns that the moral concerns related to such a policy would go against several decades of policy evaluation practice.


Assuming that there is no other solution than herd immunity in front of the current pandemic, on which categories of citizens should we build this herd immunity? Given the fact that young people face a mortality rate which is at least a thousand times smaller than people aged 70 years and more, there is a simple rational to build it on these younger generations. The transfer of some mortality risk to younger people raises dfficult ethical issues. However, none of the familiar moral or operational guidelines (equality of rights, VSL, QALY, ...) that have been used in the Western world over the last century weights the value of young lives 1000 times or more than the lives of the elders. This suggests that Society could offer Covid protection to the elders by con ning them as long as this herd immunity has not been attained by the younger generations. This would be a potent demonstration of intergenerational solidarity towards the most vulnerable people in our community. The welfare gain of this age-speci c deconfi nement strategy is huge, as it can reduce the global death toll by more than 80%. 


Christian Gollier: If the Objective is Herd Immunity, on Whom Should it be Built?, EconPol Europe Policy Brief, May 2020