Why a ‘herd immunity’ approach to COVID-19 could be a deadly disaster

Natural herd immunity has received renewed attention after reportedly being floated by White House pandemic adviser Dr. Scott Atlas as a possible solution to COVID-19. Yahoo News Medical Correspondent Dr. Dara Kass explains why a natural herd immunity approach could have deadly consequences.

Video Transcript


DARA KASS: Ever since the coronavirus pandemic started, people have tossed around the idea of herd immunity. We've heard recent rumbling of the White House maybe even using herd immunity as an approach to the federal response to this coronavirus. So what is herd immunity? And more importantly, what is it to have natural herd immunity? The idea is that enough people in any population would have been infected and recovered from a virus enough to give protection to other people because they can't give the virus to other individuals.

MARIA VAN KERKHOVE: Normally when we talk about herd immunity, we talk about how much of the population needs to be vaccinated. If we think about herd immunity in a natural sense of just letting a virus run, it's very dangerous because you would need a lot of people to be infected.

DARA KASS: We don't even know how many people would have to be immune to this coronavirus in order to provide herd immunity to our community. We think it may be between 40% and 65%, but that number isn't even well known. The other issue with herd immunity is that we don't even know if you get infected and recovered from this coronavirus, do you have long-lasting immunity?

We've seen recent reinfection in Nevada, in Hong Kong, and in Europe of patients getting reinfected with new strains of this coronavirus, which would undermine the entire possibility of getting to herd immunity by natural infection alone. We can get to herd immunity from a vaccine.


So it's taken us six months to get to 6 million infections. What if we just said, let's live life like normal? Let's not wear a mask. Let's not socially distance. Let's ride the subways and go to work. How fast could we get to 126 million infections? One year, two years, three years, we don't know. But what we know is the faster we infect people, the more people will die.


We've seen so far 185,000 Americans die of this coronavirus with 6 million people infected. If we want to intentionally infect another 126 million Americans, that means that over a million more Americans would die of this virus before we infected enough people to get to any possible national herd immunity.

The question to ask is, is it worth it for overwhelming death and destruction, for over a million more people to die and hundreds more to get infected, or do we follow the science and get to a vaccine?

So bottom line is will herd immunity be the answer to this coronavirus pandemic? And the answer will be yes, but not natural herd immunity. We will get to herd immunity hopefully with the development of a safe and effective vaccine. And until we have a safe and effective vaccine, we just need to continue to do the hard work, which means wear a mask, stay socially distanced from people you don't know, wash your hands multiple times a day, and listen to the science.