Letter to the editor: Reader pins hopes on herd immunity

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To the editor:

For the record, I am not a virologist. I am not a doctor. I am not journalist. I am just a man who reads, watches, studies, observes and asks questions.

My question now is: Will the Omicron variant of COVID-19 mean the end the COVID-19 pandemic?

From what we have heard so far, the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is less severe but more contagious than earlier variants. It may seem contrarian, but the new Omicron variant may be the secret to end the whole pandemic.

Early on we heard a lot about how the pandemic would end when we reached “herd immunity.”

Per the Mayo Clinic: “Herd immunity occurs when a large portion of a community (the herd) becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. As a result, the whole community becomes protected — not just those who are immune.”

Often a percentage of the population must be capable of getting a disease in order for it to spread. This is called a threshold proportion. If the proportion of the population that is immune to the disease is greater than this threshold, the spread of the disease will decline.

This is known as the herd immunity threshold.

Herd immunity can be reached when enough people in the population have recovered from a disease and have developed protective antibodies against future infection.

Herd immunity also can be reached when enough people have been vaccinated against a disease and have developed protective antibodies against future infection. Unlike the natural infection method, vaccines create immunity without causing illness or resulting complications. Using the concept of herd immunity, vaccines have successfully controlled contagious diseases such as smallpox, polio, diphtheria, rubella and many others.”

Although the exact level of immunity to COVID-19 needed for herd immunity is a point of discussion, 70% seems to be the most common definition. So to reach herd immunity in the U.S., we would need to have a total of 70% of the population with natural COVID-19 antibodies from previously having had COVID-19 or been effectively vaccinated against COVID-19.

Per the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as of Dec. 17, 2021:

  • Number of fully vaccinated for COVID-19 in the U.S.: 203,200,000
  • Number that have fully recovered from COVID-19: 50,479,372
  • Total of fully vaccinated and recovered from COVID-19: 253,679,392
  • Per the 2020 U.S. Census, there were 332,998,518 people in the U.S.

Doing the simple math, we see that 76.1% of the U.S. population has either recovered from COVID-19 or is full vaccinated against COVID-19, which is well above the 70% threshold needed to attain herd immunity.

Now for argument’s sake, let’s assume that all of the fully recovered people also chose to get vaccinated. That would leave us with the 203,200,000 who have been vaccinated. Assuming that full vaccination truly gives immunity to COVID-19, that would mean that at a minimum 61.0% of the U.S. population has immunity from COVID-19 because of their full-vaccination status.

To hit the 70% vaccination rate to achieve herd immunity, we would need to have a total of 233,098,926 people vaccinated. So to meet a 70% vaccination rate, we need to have an additional 29,898,976 people vaccinated. Per the CDC, as of Dec. 17 we are averaging an additional newly 1,799,583 people vaccinated per day. At the current rate of vaccination, we should reach a 70% vaccination rate and herd immunity in 16.6 days.

Break out the champagne! It appears as a country we should be at herd immunity the first week in January 2022 just from the fully vaccinated people, not even counting the people that have recovered from COVID-19.

No, wait. I guess that is not really true for a couple of reasons.

There does not seem to be any reliable data about the number of breakthrough cases for the fully vaccinated, but everyone agrees that they do exist. No vaccines are 100% effective, and that has certainly proven to be true with the current COVID-19 vaccines.

In August 2021, Matt Weissenbach, epidemiologist and senior director of clinical affairs for clinical surveillance and compliance at Wolters Kluwer, told Dale Smith and Jessica Rendall in an interview that COVID-19 reinfection cases make up less than 1% of all COVID-19 cases.

Which brings us back to the Omicron variant of COVID-19. The variant is new so there is no long-term data available currently about transmissibility and severity. Early information seems to indicate that the Omicron variant is more transmissible but less severe.

Dr. Ramin Oskoui, a cardiologist and CEO of Foxhall Cardiology, reacted to a study that found a new coronavirus mutation reportedly mirrors a change that occurred as the SARS virus began to weaken, saying that “it’s well-known that as viruses progress, they typically mutate to weaker forms.” The phenomenon is known as “Muller’s Ratchet,” Dr. Oskui said, adding that this is virology 101. “This is how they go away. They typically mutate, as well as herd immunity, to attenuate weaker strains that no longer make people so ill.”

As reported on India TV on Dec. 7, 2021, Dr. Gautam Bhansali said that the Omicron variant is spreading rapidly in 34 countries of the world, including India, but so far no severe symptoms or death has been seen in a single patient.

All of that leads me to my question. It appears that natural immunity is more durable and longer lasting than the COVID-19 vaccinations. That combined with the new Omicron variant which appears to be more contagious but less severe, are we on the verge of seeing the effective end of the COVID-19 pandemic by reaching herd immunity?

Tony Sweet
Perry

4 COMMENTS

  1. Getting everyone sick, finding a comforting opinion or wishful thinking isn’t going to make it go away. We have to stop providing hosts for the virus where it can mutate and spread. Vaccines keep people from getting as sick, but for a while, they are still hosts. Masks. Distancing. Have it die out with no place to go. They told us this over a year ago, repeatedly. But it was just too much for some people, because You Know Who wanted more money. And here we are. And here we’ll stay. Why? Selfish devotion to mobsters and con men.

  2. The COVID infection mortality rate is 1.4%.
    With a world population of 7.753 billion, that’s 108 million dead on the road to herd immunity.

  3. Tony Sweet is a prime example of the Dunning-Kruger effect. Yes, he’s comparatively well read on the subject, but that doesn’t make him an epidemiologist. As for myself, I tend to respect the opinions of those who actually have authentic degrees in medicine and other fields of study. Yes, Sweet has quoted people from here and there, but are they a significant percentage of those in the scientific community? Has he authenticated their credentials? Has he read the peer reviews on this subject? Are his conclusions on this subject based on the same level of expertise as those actually trained in this field? Another question Sweet has failed to address is the lack of faith in the scientific community overall and mistrust of government agencies combating the pandemic. Why in the world are all these drastic measures being taken if not for the input of the medical and scientific communities? What are the motivations for all of this if not for the welfare of people everywhere? I’ll come back to these simple questions. Since when does Tony Sweet have more expertise than the majority of those with doctorates in medicine and epidemiology in particular? Where are his papers on this subject that have been evaluated by qualified experts? Like my grandfather used to say, “A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing.” Tony Sweet thinks he knows. I know that I don’t know.

    • A little learning is a dangerous thing.
      Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring;
      There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
      and drinking largely sobers us again.
      –Alexander Pope

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