As we get closer to November 3d, Trump and his sycophants are becoming more agitated about polls that show His Orangeness losing. Those negative polling results rest in significant part on the widespread ( entirely accurate) perception that Trump has failed spectacularly when it comes to protecting the public against the Coronavirus.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that we are now hearing about a vaccine that might be ready on November 1st (that date is just a coincidence, of course), or that we are seeing the White House ramp up efforts to distract from the sort of sound, science-based advice being offered by actual experts like Dr. Fauci. One of the more misleading messages emanating from the administration involves promises about achieving “herd immunity,” so today I thought I’d turn the bulk of the blog over to my cousin the cardiologist, whom I often quote on these matters. (You can read his blog, aimed at debunking “Snake Oil” remedies, here.)
This time, he addresses the question: What Is Herd Immunity?
Herd immunity occurs when a high percentage of a given population is immune to a disease, either from having recovered from an infection, or having received a prior vaccination. The end result is the prevention of subsequent outbreaks, or epidemics, of the disease within that population. The exact threshold for herd immunity depends on the specific disease, especially on how easily the disease is spread. Measles, which is highly infectious, requires over 90 percent of the population to produce herd immunity. Meanwhile, influenza can be controlled with a 60 percent level of herd immunity. COVID-19 might be somewhere in the middle: Most experts expect that coronavirus would require 70 to 80 percent protection to achieve this level of immunity.
Herd immunity is typically achieved through a vaccine, such as that for polio, a disease which, just a few decades ago brought justifiable fear to parents that their children would be paralyzed for life. And although isolated cases still occur in many places, a high enough proportion of people are immune through vaccination that epidemics no longer occur. Similar success was obtained with measles, until a misguided anti-vaccination movement has partially upended the desired herd immunity levels.
Originally the term “herd immunity” was employed by immunologists and epidemiologists to describe the percentage of the population that must acquire immunity through receipt of an effective vaccine in order to halt spread of infection. Used by Trump, however, herd immunity is interpreted as the percentage of the population that must acquire immunity by becoming infected to stop the infection from spreading further. This no vaccine approach requires a significant portion of the population to become gravely ill or die (as nearly 200,000 Americans already have) to achieve the same result.
Sadly, a New Coronavirus Adviser, Dr. Scott Atlas, misinforms both the White House and general population with deceptive ideas. Dr. Atlas (a radiologist, not versed in epidemiology or infectious diseases) questions controls like masks. He has angered top health officials by pushing various other disputed policy prescriptions. He argued not only that the science of mask wearing is uncertain, but that children cannot pass on the coronavirus and that the role of the government is not to stamp out the virus but to protect its most vulnerable citizens as Covid-19 takes its course. Ideas like these, scientifically incorrect, have propelled Atlas into President Trump’s White House, where he is pushing to reshape the administration’s response to the pandemic.
Not surprisingly, Trump has embraced Dr. Atlas’s cockamamie ideas, as has Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, even as he upsets the balance of power within the White House coronavirus task force with ideas that top government doctors and scientists like Anthony S. Fauci, Deborah L. Birx and Jerome Adams, the surgeon general, find at best misguided , and at worst, outright dangerous
“I think Trump clearly does not like the advice he was receiving from the people who are the experts — Fauci, Birx, etc. — so he has slowly shifted from their advice to somebody who tells him what he wants to hear,” said Dr. Carlos del Rio, an infectious disease expert at Emory University, who is close to Dr. Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator.
“He (Atlas) has many great ideas,” Mr. Trump told reporters at a White House briefing last month with Dr. Atlas seated feet away. “And he thinks what we’ve done is really good, and now we’ll take it to a new level.”
Let’s all hope that we can prevent this “new level” from materializing until after November, 2020!!