The New York Times declares defeat on herd immunity!

On the same day New York announced that Broadway would open early due to improvements in the pandemic, the New York Times declared that “herd immunity to COVID-19 cannot be achieved.” Talk about moving the goalposts!

The Times believes the “failure of herd immunity” results from declining vaccination rates, “variants,” and the inability to completely immunize the population. This is asserted despite there being no data showing that any variant SARS-CoV-2 virus escapes the current RNA vaccines or that levels of vaccination affording group immune protection cannot be achieved with the current vaccine campaigns.

The article goes on to quote unnamed “public health experts” stating that the “threshold” for herd immunity is “not attainable— at least not in the foreseeable future, and perhaps not ever.” However, they never identify what this “threshold” for herd immunity actually is!

The piece also proffers that “experts” are “coming to the conclusion that rather than making a long-promised exit, the virus will most likely become a manageable threat that will continue to circulate in the United States for years to come, still causing hospitalizations and deaths but in much smaller numbers.”

This actually sounds like what most people thought we could achieve with herd immunity! Did anyone actually think we could sterilize the world to make COVID-19 go away completely? Suppressing the pandemic seemed like an optimal goal, with controlling smaller outbreaks as they happened something that would continue for some time. Importantly, having enough immunity to allow normal activity and stop the lockdowns was foremost in most people’s minds.

There are two quotes in this article that make no sense. First, there is, “The virus is unlikely to go away,” said Rustom Antia, an evolutionary biologist at Emory University in Atlanta. “But we want to do all we can to check that it’s likely to become a mild infection.” This is crazy. The virus won’t change into a “mild infection” unless you have immunity against it, most likely from a vaccine. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci

Also, there is this quote from Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the Biden administration’s top adviser on Covid-19. He reportedly, “acknowledged the shift in experts’ thinking” and said, “People were getting confused and thinking you’re never going to get the infections down until you reach this mystical level of herd immunity, whatever that number is.” Isn’t he the one who put out the “mystical” level of 80% immunization as that required for herd immunity?

While everyone needs to get vaccinated for their own benefit (to potentially save their own lives!), no one really knows what level of immunity is needed to provide herd protection against COVID-19. However, what we’re observing right now is a marked decrease in infections across the country that appears to be related to current levels of vaccination. Supporting the idea that this is the result of vaccination is hard data from Israel (which I have previously presented) showing that herd immunity appears to happen with COVID-19 when over 50% of the population is fully immunized.

As vaccinations in Israel reached 50% new COVID-19 infections plummeted

This may be why President Biden is reducing his vaccination goals for July 4th, New York is opening up early, and people are starting to make summer vacation plans. 

So while the NYT does not think “herd immunity will ever be achieved,” most of us are observing that it has already arrived.

Published by jbakerjrblog

Immunologist, former Army MD, former head of allergy and clinical immunology at University of Michigan, vaccine developer and opinionated guy.

2 thoughts on “The New York Times declares defeat on herd immunity!

  1. I have to say that first of all, I don’t trust any reporting that “cites” “unnamed sources.” It smacks more of gossip to me than reliable news.

    When thinking about SARS-CoV-2 and herd immunity, I tend to go back to thinking about smallpox and how Europeans brought it to the New World with devastating consequences. Back then Europeans had developed herd immunity to this terrible disease, while those born in the Americas, people of all races, did not have it. What resulted were horrible epidemics, especially in isolated communities. I think the same basic mechanism is at play now: We’re already developing herd immunity via vaccinations and natural infections, and like you I think we’re well on our way to living with SARS-CoV-2, just we are with the various other coronaviruses, influenza, etc. Sure, there will be variants, however, why can’t we just manage that with boosters each fall when we get out flu shots? This seems entirely sensible to me.

    The politicization of the pandemic has been truly problematic and has resulted in many mis-steps, and as you allude to, much “moving [of] the goalposts.” This does very little to instill confidence in our public health system and infrastructure, and as you mentioned in your last post, should trigger a cogent and non-political look into reforming the public health system and infrastructure once the COVID-19 pandemic abates.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree that herd immunity is already reached.
    20-40% and up to 50% in New York had the disease. Add the vaccinated and even with some overlap we are way past 50%.
    Some scientists say that herd immunity can be had with 20-30% immunization.

    Liked by 1 person

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