As many in America become increasingly impatient with social distancing, mask-wearing, bars and restaurants operating at reduced capacity, and postponements of weddings and funerals, some argue for letting the coronavirus run its course.
If we just get back to pre-COVID-19 life, we will create herd immunity to the virus, they say. Now, these same people have a supporter in the White House.
“Herd immunity occurs when a large portion of a community (the herd) becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely,” the Mayo Clinic says. “As a result, the whole community becomes protected — not just those who are immune.” Herd immunity creates enough dead ends for the virus that it can’t find another host.
Achieving herd immunity depends on how infectious a virus is. Measles, one of the most contagious diseases, would require 94 percent of the population to be immune to stop the chain of transmission. For COVID-19, it is estimated that herd immunity would mean 70 percent or more of the population is immune.
A second way to achieve herd immunity is with a vaccine. Ideally, the two work together to create herd immunity.
One concern with relying on large numbers of recovered COVID-19 infected people to create herd immunity is that it is unknown whether the antibodies that build up to fight the infection will provide long-term protection.
Another challenge is that you must convince a large percentage of the U.S. population to get immunized. According to Pew Research, only 51 percent of adults in the U.S. say they are willing to get the coronavirus vaccine when it comes out, which could be late in 2020 or early 2021. That means nearly half of Americans won’t get it, which leaves the country fall below the required percentage of the population immunized to create herd immunity.
A “vaccine for COVID-19 would be an ideal approach to achieving herd immunity. Vaccines create immunity without causing illness or resulting complications,” the Mayo Clinic says.
The use of vaccines to create herd immunity is essential to the health and safety of those who have weakened or compromised immune systems and who can’t take the vaccine. “Using the concept of herd immunity, vaccines have successfully controlled deadly contagious diseases such as smallpox, polio, diphtheria, rubella, and many others,” according to the Mayo Clinic.
Again, there is a potential drawback. It is not yet certain whether the vaccine will provide long-term protection or if it will be like the flu vaccine that has to be given every year.
“Total nonsense,” is how the nation’s top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci sums up the idea letting the disease run unchecked, creating herd immunity. Fauci has been the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984.
Some who favor letting the virus run its course in the U.S. to achieve herd immunity point to the new “Great Barrington Declaration” authored by a small group of doctors.
“The most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity, is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk,” their declaration states. “We call this Focused Protection.”
Fauci dismisses that argument as ignorant and lacking touch with the reality of American Society.
“This [declaration] is dangerous because it puts the entire population, particularly the most vulnerable, at risk. Young people are not all healthy and they don’t live in vacuums,” dozens of scientists, doctors, and researchers wrote in a letter published in The Lancet medical journal, The Hill reports.
“They interact with family members, co-workers, and neighbors. Inviting increased rates of COVID-19 in young people will lead to increased infection rates among all Americans,” they said.
Thirty percent of Americans have an underlying condition that makes them more susceptible to the adverse effects of COVID-19. Older adults, especially those over 65, have increased chances of lingering problems from the virus and die in much higher numbers from the disease.
In rural America, where the population is older and has a higher percentage of underlying conditions, letting the coronavirus run through the community would be particularly disastrous. Our small-town hospitals would be rapidly overrun.
“What that will do is that there will be so many people in the community that you can’t shelter, that you can’t protect, who are gonna get sick and get serious consequences,” Fauci said.
“So, this idea that we have the power to protect the vulnerable is total nonsense because history has shown that that’s not the case. And, and if you talk to anybody who has any experience in epidemiology and infectious diseases, they will tell you that that is risky, and you’ll wind up with many more infections of vulnerable people, which will lead to hospitalizations and deaths. So, I think that we just got to look that square in the eye and say it’s nonsense,” he said.
According to the Mayo Clinic, 70 percent of the population — more than 200 million people — would have to get COVID-19 and recover before herd immunity would begin to become effective in stopping the spread of the disease. With 200 million infections, we would expect 500,000 to 1 million additional deaths.
Meanwhile, our healthcare system would be incapable of handling the flood of sick people needing hospitalization. Our economy, especially in rural America, would be devastated. In our rural community, many of our leaders on governmental bodies, boards and commissions, and volunteer groups are in the vulnerable age group. We have manufacturers who are heavily reliant on older workers, as are many of our retail stores.