Feature Article — Science Made Easy: Viral Transmission, Human Immunity & the Gap Called “Immunity Debt”

Published on in Parents PACK

Perhaps one of the most obvious outcomes of the shutdowns early during the COVID-19 pandemic was that not only did we stop the spread of SARS-CoV-2 virus, but we also stopped many other respiratory pathogens that circulate each year. Rates of influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and other viruses plummeted during 2020. In 2021, while we were resuming normal activities, we still hadn’t returned completely to our pre-pandemic schedules. As such, we saw increases in respiratory viruses, but not like we have seen in late 2022 and early 2023.

Much has been made of the so-called “immunity debt,” or “immunity gap,” that pandemic restrictions caused, so this issue of Parents PACK features a “Science Made Easy” video in which Dr. Paul Offit, VEC Director, discusses this concept.

Regardless of whether you view the “immunity debt” as a necessary outcome or yet another fallout of the restrictions, our collective experience over the last few years has clearly demonstrated that we coexist with many pathogens that seek to infect us for their survival — even if we can’t see them or are not directly affected by them.

Download a PDF version of this article.

Materials in this section are updated as new information and vaccines become available. The Vaccine Education Center staff regularly reviews materials for accuracy.

You should not consider the information in this site to be specific, professional medical advice for your personal health or for your family's personal health. You should not use it to replace any relationship with a physician or other qualified healthcare professional. For medical concerns, including decisions about vaccinations, medications and other treatments, you should always consult your physician or, in serious cases, seek immediate assistance from emergency personnel.