Natural herd immunity is strategy cloaked in ignorance | News, Sports, Jobs


Here at the beginning of 2021, we have many uninformed and confused political “leaders” both nationally and within the State of Michigan. They advocate letting the SARS CoV-2 virus just run its course through the general population to achieve a “natural herd immunity.”

Baraga and Delta counties have now foolishly declared themselves public health free zones where regulations will no longer be enforced during this pandemic.

Natural herd immunity means that if almost everybody has become infected with COVID, then there won’t be as many uninfected people getting it. Laboratory created vaccines provide herd immunity without having to get the disease.

Unfortunately, and quite disturbingly, some “physicians” at the national level like Trump advisor Dr. Atlas, have also cast their shadows of incompetence and recklessness onto the public by advocating natural herd immunity as a way out of this pandemic. Some restaurants, instead of expanding safe take out services, have decided that just ignoring science and public health experts will lead to a rapid and stable return to their business as usual.

Some feel that by not wearing a mask and ignoring physical distancing, they are demonstrating their rights of individuality and freedom, when in reality they are advertising their ignorance of science, their selfishness, and disregard for the freedom and health of others in our society.

Groups like “Unlock Michigan” don’t seem to understand that getting and keeping the pandemic under control and distributing vaccines from a strong central government as efficiently as possible using evidence based epidemiology has to come first in order to achieve any stable economic recovery.

During a raging pandemic emergency, speedy response, informed by science, must take priority over drawn out debate with those who seem focused only on an impatient return to economic normalcy. An increasingly unhealthy populace is very bad for business.

Why is the idea of natural herd immunity asking for disaster?

First, in order to achieve natural herd immunity approximately 70% of the population would have to become infected with this virus. SARS CoV-2 infections have an approximate 2% death rate even with the most recently developed therapeutics (New England Journal of Medicine, Dec, 2020). That means that 200 million people in the US would need to become infected in order to achieve herd immunity. With a 2% death rate, that equates to 4 to 5 million deaths from COVID in the US! Further, 20% of those with COVID (40 million) would require hospitalization, overwhelming all our health care systems and preventing their ability to adequately treat other diseases and injuries. This would further add to the overall death tolls and dramatically increase personal health care expenses and bankruptcies. Alarmingly, a high percentage of those who “fully recover” from COVID have evidence of heart damage with unknown longer-term health consequences going forward (, 2020).

Second, the SARS CoV-2 virus is mutating, with several of these now appearing to make it much more contagious by increasing it’s colonization and replication rate in the upper airway during the early asymptomatic period of infection. This mutated form is now spreading rapidly around the world and is quickly becoming the dominant variant (Nature, December, 2020). Virus mutation rates dramatically increase the more they are transmitted from person to person within the “herd” and get a chance to replicate within humans or other animals. Any time the virus replicates within your cells, mistakes in transcription can occur in the genetic code of the virus. These mutations can in turn affect the way the virus acts in the body or physically looks to the immune system or to a vaccine. The natural herd immunity advocates do not seem to be able to grasp this simple fact. They are advocating for themselves and others to become incubators for viral mutations that could thwart vaccine effectiveness and greatly prolong this pandemic and its negative health and economic consequences. In addition, mutated SARS CoV-2 can infect domestic animals (cats) and factory farmed animals, allowing them to become new reservoirs and vectors of infection for humans (Frontiers in Immunology, Sept 2020 & Foreign Policy, Dec 2020).

The quickest and best way out of the pandemic and economic hole we find ourselves in is not by spreading the infection, but by carefully following the guidance and rules issued by our medical science experts in Epidemiology and Public Health. And, get a vaccination when it’s your turn.

Wearing a mask in public, exercising appropriate social distancing and washing your hands is patriotic and shows that you’re informed and are advocating for a stronger, more resilient and pandemic free America.

Editor’s note: Scott Emerson, MD, is a retired physician and medical toxicologist who resides in Chocolay Township.

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