Lets Talk About Herd Immunity

It’s been a long summer, and we’re about to enter an even longer fall.

Recently, California officials have released their expectations for an expected surge of coronavirus cases this week. This prediction comes from months of tracking and asking questions: What happens before cases surge? What patterns do we see before cases increase?

According to the LA Times, “the county’s projected COVID-19 transmission rate has crept past 1 to 1.05, according to new modeling from L.A. County Health Services.”
This statistic reveals that the average number of people a person can infect has increased; because this number has increased past one, cases are expected to increase, we call this the R-naught. If the transmission rate was 1 to 1; the average person would likely only transmit the disease to one person.

Image Credit: NPR
A comparison of reproduction numbers, or R0s, for several viruses. R0 is one measure of contagiousness. (NPR)

 

However, this threat of increasing cases isn’t just in LA County, the entire country has been on a steady incline of COVID – 19 cases. With this new threat of increasing cases, fear of lockdowns and stay at home orders are spreading through the country.

That’s where the idea of “Herd Immunity” comes into play. Herd immunity is the idea that if enough members of a population have been infected by a disease they become immune to it, therefore making the spread of the disease unlikely. Recently, the White House has come to embrace this form of fighting the pandemic as opposed to lockdown orders and the suggestions of Dr. Fauci.

The White House Administration has a history of arguing with CDC officials, most notably Dr. Fauci and the idea of wearing masks. President Trump has been accused multiple times of downplaying the importance of masks; in April he stated at a Coronavirus Task Force Press Briefing at the White House, “You don’t have to do it. They suggested for a period of time, but this is voluntary. I don’t think I’m going to be doing it.”

“You don’t have to do it. They suggested for a period of time, but this is voluntary. I don’t think I’m going to be doing it.”

— Current President Donald Trump

If our country were to follow the course of Herd Immunity, “at least 60% to 80% of the population needs to be vaccinated or have natural antibodies in order to work according to global health experts”. If you were to calculate the percentage of citizens who may have natural antibodies due to previous encounters with COVID-19, you’d fall short of 10%, meaning that less than 10% of the current US population has the necessary antibodies to fight off the novel coronavirus, and if you calculated the percentage of people who have access to a vaccine, that would be 0%.

“If we apply herd immunity to COVID-19, it becomes dangerous,” Biology and Chemistry teacher Ms. Banh stated. “Herd immunity works with approved vaccines primarily because these vaccines have been shown to prevent and stop the spread of illness and infection. This saves lives without having to sacrifice the lives of others.”

As of right now, no COVID vaccine has been approved.

Despite these concerns, two senior white house officials cited “The Great Barrington Declaration,” a petition that calls for the removal of lockdowns, and in its stead “Focused Protection” during a call held by the White House in October.

“Keeping these measures in place until a vaccine is available will cause irreparable damage, with the underprivileged disproportionately harmed,” the declaration states, adding, “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. We call this Focused Protection.”

Considering the fact that less than 10% of Americans contain the antibodies needed to fight off COVID-19, letting the virus run its course would be very dangerous.

“Beyond the flawed logistics of attempting to achieve herd immunity without a vaccine at all, epidemiologists estimate that allowing the pandemic to continue unchecked in an attempt to achieve herd immunity would result in approximately 1-2 million lives lost in the United States alone,” Ms. Banh, stated. “This is absolutely not what we want.”

On the other hand, President-Elect Joe Biden recently announced his own COVID-19 task force. This group is made up of experienced doctors and scientists, including former US Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy and Marcella Nunez-Smith, associate dean for health equity research at the Yale School of Medicine.

In regards to the chosen members of his task force, Biden stated, “Dealing with the coronavirus pandemic is one of the most important battles our administration will face, and I will be informed by science and by experts.”

These past couple of days the United States has been recording more than 100,000 cases a day and according to the Washington Post, this is “a toll expected to worsen during the crucial 10-week stretch of the [presidential] transition.”

Right now our country is in a state of transition that will determine how we deal with COVID-19 and how fast we can return to a “normal state”. Until the necessary changes to fighting COVID are named, we cannot expect to simply live like we were living before the pandemic. It is the hope of our country that the persons in power will do everything they can to assist the American people in fighting back against the Coronavirus.