November 26, 2020

A View From My Porch: Make America Safe Again, A Primer on Herd Immunity 

Is herd immunity the answer to the current pandemic crisis? Photo by David Todd McCarty on Unsplash.

A lot of people recently started saying, “Herd immunity.”

So, to get up to speed, I reviewed some of my old textbooks and learned (again) that “herd immunity” occurs when a substantial portion of the population (i.e., the “herd”) has, at least in our contemporary medical era, been vaccinated (e.g., MMR.)

This eventually provides protection for vulnerable individuals because, as the number of vaccinated (and presumably immune) persons grows, the likelihood that a susceptible person will come into contact with an infectious person drops; and the chain of infection is broken. 

In the last few weeks, it has been reported (e.g., NYT, WAPO) that the White House has apparently embraced a strategy of enabling deliberate infection of Americans to achieve herd immunity. Campaign rallies?

This approach was proposed in early October in “The Great Barrington Declaration” by a group of “pseudo-scientists”, who argued that government authorities should allow the virus to spread among young, healthy people, while, “in some way”, protecting the elderly and the vulnerable.

So, only people who are at high risk of dying from the disease would be, “somehow”, protected from infection. In other words, achieve a state of “herd immunity” via massive infection, rather than a vaccine. 

The “Declaration” states that those at lower risk of death from infection can, and should, resume normal activities, socialize in crowded bars and restaurants, and gather at sports and other events; and thus, facilitate a rebound of the economy. There is no mention of masks, physical distancing, testing, or tracing.

The “Declaration” was sponsored by the American Institute for Economic Research, whose past work has denied climate change, denied the importance of face masks during this pandemic, and supported personal freedom and limited government. 

Note that, as I write this, the COVID test positivity rate is 38 percent in South Dakota, where personal freedom appears to reign over community safety.  

The White Huse may be aligning itself with this particular “herd immunity” strategy because it supports their false portrayal of mainstream public health experts as supportive of very harsh restrictions, and argues against any and all COVID-related limits on Americans, including face masks. 

Public health and medical professionals do not support this strategy. Dr. Anthony Fauci emerged from exile and called the concept “total nonsense”. 

Others, including the World Health Organization, have stated that the strategy is especially dangerous because it would be nearly impossible to shield those who are medically vulnerable. 

In a letter recently published in The Lancet, 80 scientists stated that “the idea that the public can infect its way out of the COVID-19 pandemic is a dangerous fallacy unsupported by the scientific evidence”. They acknowledged that pandemic restrictions have led to demoralization, but stress that controlling community spread of the virus is the best way to protect the population and the economy until vaccines and treatments are developed.

The scientists continue, “Any pandemic management strategy relying upon ‘immunity from natural infections’ for COVID-19 is flawed.” They add, “Such a strategy would not lead to the end of COVID-19, but result in recurrent epidemics, as was the case with numerous infectious diseases before the advent of vaccination.”

Both the New England Journal of Medicine and The Lancet have published editorials highly critical of the White House’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States. This was unprecedented for these two prestigious, peer-reviewed medical journals.

COVID-19 cases are increasing in several Connecticut hot spots, and deaths are rising at near-apocalyptic levels across much of the United States, with new cases frequently exceeding 50,000 per day. Public health experts have been warning for months that fall and winter could lead to a spike in cases, and the United States remains unprepared and without a common national strategy. 

Let’s put the idea of natural and uncontrolled infection-based herd immunity behind us.

I believe that safe and well-tested vaccines are on the horizon, maybe by early to mid-2021.  There is also significant activity in the development of therapeutics that could be available for widespread and economical use across the population.

Until then our primary public health strategy remains one of mitigation — slowing the spread now that the virus is so firmly established within the population. 

Continuing restrictions will probably be required in the short term. These non-pharmaceutical methods are simple … you already know them!

Wear a mask and observe physical distancing protocols.

Wash your hands frequently and disinfect work surfaces.

Avoid densely packed crowds, especially indoors.

Expect that some capacity restrictions will remain in place for the foreseeable future.

And for goodness sake, get your information from reputable public health sources. 

And finally, God save the United States of America.

This is the opinion of Thomas D. Gotowka.

Tom Gotowka

About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He’ will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK.

A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.

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Comments

  1. Thank you for this informative letter. I had the privilege to attend last year’s Army-Navy game, Army side!

  2. This administration has proved time and again that it refuses to listen to the recommendations of learned professionals during the pandemic, on the environment, on economics, social policy, and public policy. For most of their tenure, this just hurt Americans socially and fiscally. Now they are putting citizens’ lives at risk and it needs to be stopped. Smart people should form their own informed opinions and assessments of what is safe and what is unsafe. Unfortunately, people who believe in herd immunity may once again prove Darwin true.

  3. Paula Sadlon says

    Thank you for writing this. People must be reminded it is not time to let your guard down. We still have a long way to go.

    Hopefully, in the near future, better minds, who believe real science, will prevail.

    Pandemic and climate change threaten all of us.

  4. Maybe the people at the LOL Board of Education will take a look at the infection rates increasing in our county and across the state and realize that schools need to go to full remote before any teachers or students die or get lifelong health problems because of a case of Covid that they catch in schools.

    The current “plan” for education in the district isn’t grounded in science, and isn’t really a plan. The Board of Education needs to do better, and it would be great to see something that looked like leadership or creativity from either the superintendent or the school board,

    Herd immunity isn’t happening anytime soon, our rates are increasing rapidly, and our board of education and our superintendent continue to put teachers and students at risk.

    • Thomas D. Gotowka says

      Jim: I sincerely hope that you didn’t interpret my column as supporting this president’s apparent reliance on the “Great Barrington Declaration’s form of “herd Immunity. Again, and as above,”Let’s put the idea of natural and uncontrolled infection-based herd immunity behind us. Safe and well-tested vaccines are on the horizon, maybe by early to mid-2021.

      Until then,our primary public health strategy remains one of mitigation — slowing the spread now that the virus is so firmly established within the population.”

      • Not at all, Thomas! Your column was clear and makes a lot of great points.

        The people currently serving our town as selectpeople, the elected members of the Board of Education, and the school superintendent, are all failing at their leadership obligations. Their policies and actions clearly show that they do not take the health and safety of the people of this town as seriously as they should.

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