Published: March 1, 2021

Months ago, the phrase “herd immunity” became the most common answer to the question, “How will this pandemic ever end?”

For the recovery of the economy and the revitalization of civic life, the immune systems of millions of people must develop a resistance to Covid-19. Reaching that goal will require millions of individuals to make the decision to accept a vaccination.

Does anyone know how the habit of constantly referring to people as a herd is going to help in achieving that goal?

Months ago, my initial reaction was that the experts had never even considered that question.

In what we used to call “normal life,” we had our most direct experiences of being treated like herd animals in airports. Shuffling along through the switchbacks of TSA security lanes, did we find the occasion to look upon ourselves as creatures empowered to make wise choices that will shape our well-being as individuals and as members of society?

Not so much. 

And now my second reaction has reversed my first one.

By guiding public health experts, epidemiologists, and infectious disease specialists to make constant use of the term herd, might it be that a team of communications professionals actually provided very sound advice?

There is an abundance of evidence to support the proposition that people have found comfort, relief, and solidarity in the opportunity to join a herd. 

The University of Colorado Alumni Association presents a major data point in that abundance of evidence. As the Association’s website says, “The Herd is the student arm of CU Boulder’s Alumni Association and is dedicated to advancing the CU Boulder experience.” 

Of course, it is Ralphie’s status as the most charismatic of megafauna that endows CU’s use of the term herd with its appeal. When our mascot and her Handlers dash around the field, association with a herd will always suggest power and grandeur, not conformity and docility.

So now, guided by the wondrously named “Herd Leadership Council,” the CU Herd works to foster a lifelong sense of belonging and connection in our students, a cause I wholeheartedly support.

But the University’s Herd is still just a little bit funny.

And yet it is also inspirational, and full of possibilities in 2021.

Could the University of Colorado loan Ralphie’s charisma to the epidemiologists, public health experts, and infectious disease specialists? But Ralphie is a herd animal who is not currently affiliated with a herd of her own kin. So maybe the officials and experts, who are charged with promoting herd immunity, could work with the Denver Mountain Parks, to use footage of the Genesee bison racing, with force and momentum, across an iconic Western landscape? 

Here is the serious point: the term herd immunity needs help in the enhancement of its power to motivate and encourage our species.

The endlessly photogenic bison could provide that help.

And, yes, I am intentionally sidestepping the charged issues of bison, cattle, and the infection of brucellosis. Covid-19 is providing us with enough in the way of social conflict for the time being.

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