During a White House coronavirus vaccine event that took place on Tuesday, President Donald Trump appeared to voice strong support for the idea of so-called natural “herd immunity,” the controversial idea that a population can develop immunities and stop the spread of a virus simply by allowing it to “run its course” without significant efforts to mitigate it.
Throughout the year, Trump has been reluctant to back social distancing standards, including encouraging individuals to restrict personal travel and to wear masks, which have been found effective in actually limiting the spread of COVID-19. He has also dangerously downplayed the seriousness of coronavirus, in spite of describing the pandemic as “deadly” earlier this year in an interview with Bob Woodward.
On Tuesday, Trump described vaccines for COVID-19 as “our goal” that “was number one, because that’s the way it ends,” referring to the pandemic. But in other comments, he suggested that large numbers of infections in the U.S. over the past year were somehow a good thing.
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“I hear we’re close to 15 percent, I’m hearing that, and that’s terrific, that’s a very powerful vaccine in itself,” Trump said, describing the number of Americans estimated to have had coronavirus so far.
In fact, a recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that closer to 16 percent of Americans have likely had the virus, many without presenting symptoms. But that means a significant number haven’t yet been exposed to COVID-19.
“This indicates that approximately 84% of the U.S. population has not yet been infected, and thus most of the country remains at risk, despite already high rates of hospitalization,” a report from the health agency said.
Over the past several months, White House officials have demonstrated an eagerness to accept the idea of herd immunity — even going so far as to peddle a petition that signaled support for the concept from supposed medical professionals. While the petition did include real doctors and health professionals who believed in promoting herd immunity, many of the names on the list turned out to be pranks based on common jokes, such as Dr. I.P. Freely and Dr. Person Fakename.
That dubious petition, endorsed by officials within the Trump administration, suggested that a herd immunity threshold of 20 percent was all that was needed in order to reduce the impact of the spread of COVID-19. However, most epidemiologists disagree with that idea, as immunity for other infectious diseases typically requires over 90 percent of the population to be vaccinated to prevent the spread of that disease. Measles, for example, requires a 94 percent vaccination threshold to achieve herd immunity.
So-called natural herd immunity — developing immunities within a population without using safely administered inoculations — has been denounced by most health experts as a dangerous method of trying to combat coronavirus. Many have likened it to the practice of eugenics, as it would probably result in millions of deaths among individuals with weaker immune systems.
Beyond the mortality rate for COVID, there are grave concerns about its long-term effects among survivors, many of whom are now living with debilitating symptoms. It’s also unclear how long these symptoms, which can include blood clots and organ failure, will linger. Promoting natural herd immunity, which Trump and others in his administration have consistently done, would undoubtedly lead to more individuals having to live with these serious long-term health issues.
Since the start of the pandemic, more than 15.2 million Americans have contracted the coronavirus and as of now, 286,443 individuals have died from COVID-19.