Options Winter 2021: The herd immunity approach was initially considered as a management option for the COVID-19 pandemic. IIASA researchers looked at what the cost of inaction would have been in the USA.

While there is mounting evidence on the large economic cost of policy interventions aimed at containing the progression of COVID-19, little is known about the cost of inaction, which is tantamount to a strategy that seeks to reach herd immunity through infection.

In their study, IIASA Economic Frontiers Program Director Michael Kuhn and his coauthors assessed the economic burden that such an approach would have imposed on the United States. The study shows that a lack of behavioral or policy responses to COVID-19 would have cost the USA’s GDP as much as US $1.4 trillion by 2030. Furthermore, when accounting for the value of lives lost, the total economic burden in that time could have reached as high as $94 trillion.

“Our study provides an estimate of the minimum economic cost of COVID-19 (the cost faced through loss
in labor due to morbidity and mortality, and through loss in capital investments due to treatment costs) calculated for the case that there are no private or public measures limiting the spread of the disease,” explains Kuhn. “If you add to this the value of lives lost, the cost becomes staggering. All of this should be further proof that large-scale investments into the development of vaccines and the resilience of health care systems to cope with pandemic crises yield huge returns for all of us."

By Jeremy Summers