I know President Trump mocks the idea of herd immunity, but there’s really no other option absent a vaccine. And if we keep in lockdown until a vaccine is widely available, millions will die from the collapsed economy and collapsed infrastructure.
What makes Coronavirus more dangerous than flu is lack of immune people.
Let’s say that both kill about .01 to .02 percent of everyone who catches them, just for argument’s sake. Then, let’s say that only people with fairly significant symptoms get tested, so they both kill about 10% of confirmed cases.
How, then, could one kill more people than the other? Two ways:
- Ease of transmission.
(Ironically, we won’t actually know either until we know both. To understand how easily Coronavirus is transmitted, we need a rough idea of how many people have had it already and how many. And knowing that will also tell us how many people have developed immunity. Until we have a good statistical estimate of the percent of the population who’ve already had Coronvirus, everything is pretty much a guess.)
If, as some have speculated, Coronavirus is significantly more transmissible than influenza, one person with Coronavirus will pass it on to more people than the same person with the flu would.
That brings us to the bigger issue: immunity.
Every year, millions of Americans get a flu shot. Every year, about 60 million Americans catch the flu. Either way, almost all of them build an immunity to that strain of the flu for a period of time. Some virologists estimate that, in the United States, up to 60 percent of the population is immune to a given strain at a given time.
When the Coronavirus hit the US (whenever that was), no one was immune. Here’s why that’s significant:
Suppose you went to a Christmas party last December at which there were 50 guests. One of the guests had the flu and one had Coronavirus. Assume that every person at the party touched every other person by no more than two degrees of separation.
In this scenario, it’s possible that only 8 people would catch the flu while 25 could catch Coronavirus. (Each partygoer can within two people of both carriers.) That’s because 60 percent of the people were immune to the flu. (Rough estimates, but you get the idea.)
This means there are only two ways to slow the spread of Coronavirus: herd immunity or a vaccine. All other mitigations only delay the spread to alleviate congestion at hospitals, and overwhelmed hospitals were a key reason for so many deaths in Italy. (People who might have lived died because hospitals lacked the capacity to treat them.)
If you want to hear the same thing from a doctor who studies infectious diseases for a living, see Mark Levin’s interview with Dr. David Katz, founder of Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center.
In short, the numbers of cases will go up as soon as you ease the lockdown, but we should end the lockdown immediately, anyway, to save the greater number of lives.
Sometimes, things aren’t as easy as they appear.