Good News on the Coronavirus Pandemic
It’s been hard to objectively assess where we are in the coronavirus pandemic when political agendas, special interests, and media irresponsibility have clouded our outlook. Nowadays, many people are following their personal feelings and use any available facts to justify those feelings while ignoring anything that goes against their preferred narrative. The left does this ad nauseum. Folks on the right are sometimes guilty as well. That’s too bad, because an objective look at the public health picture shows promise for good news soon that justifies a prompt return to normal life. In the next few months, you can expect conditions to get much better and you can expect the media and leftist politicians to grasp at progressively thinner excuses to spend money and extend control over your personal liberties.
Let’s start with a bold prediction: Herd immunity (the point where diseases find it hard to spread) is imminent in the next two months! This is far earlier than expected by medical pop stars like Dr. Anthony Fauci. We assume herd immunity when 70-80% or more are immune to a disease. This immunity can be from surviving an infection, or from a vaccination. According to the CDC, the U.S. is at 26% first dose received in the U.S. for COVID-19 vaccination. When more than 35-45% first dose coverage is achieved, I (and some others) predict herd immunity will kick in and this disease will collapse.
If you are interested in the math, we’re counting the first vaccine dose because it conveys most of the immunity in the shot series. To get above 70% population immunity, you add your vaccinated (35%) to your naturally infected (25% of US population estimated) and you get to 60% so far. Add in people who are partially immune due to cross immunity from prior non-COVID coronaviruses (20%+), we can conservatively get to 75% immunity give or take 10%. (A review in the British Medical Journal estimates cross immunity at 18-50% varying by country.) If you don’t accept the idea of cross-immunity, you’ll arrive at the same numbers after another month of vaccinations.
We’ve learned a lot about this disease and there is more reason to be calm. The alarming mortality rates from the onset of this Wuhan pandemic settled down by July 2020 and never went back up. Mortality has continued to be consistently low in most age groups (See Figure 1). Everything since then, including the half million U.S. death count, has been from the inevitable race to herd immunity in a country with the population of 1/3 billion people. This remains a 65+ mortality disease (See Figure 2). Without immunizations, this disease would inexorably kill 1.5+ million in the U.S.
What about all these variants that will doom us all? Those variants, which are allowed to be named after Britain and Brazil when mention of Wuhan is of course xenophobic and racist, do not appear to be something that matters too much because the data show immunized and immune (recovered) people are not falling ill from them. Variants matter to the susceptible population because they can spread more easily, resulting in case tick-ups in 19 states. The bottom line is that the vaccines are effective against today’s known variants.
While he was serving Dr. Fauci’s head on a platter in the Senate chamber, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) recently stated the data show that the fully immunized (full series + two weeks) are not getting hospitalized or dying. You can expect the news to holler about it when it eventually happens, but all indications are that the vaccines are working extremely well. We’ve seen no evidence to date of asymptomatic disease spread in this group. Score +1 for science.
We’ve also learned that being immunized (through vaccines or prior infection) matters a great deal, but masks not so much. Over the last three weeks, Texas ended its mask mandate and saw a 50% drop in cases while restrictive New York saw cases climb. This seems counterintuitive, but places removing mask mandates are not falling apart. I admit I’m surprised because I thought masks would have some modest benefit. To be honest, I simply don’t know because we still lack good clinical studies showing real-world cloth mask efficacy. I do know that I’m fully immunized and there is no scientific reason for me to wear a mask anymore. I still wear one while walking into restaurants to avoid assault until I am seated and I’m magically no longer infectious to other people. I suspect the public health people are lying about masks for the immunized because they don’t want the unimmunized to stop wearing them also, so they tell a ‘noble’ lie. Score -1 for superstitions and -1 to CDC credibility.
The bottom line of this analysis is that the pandemic could be over as early as late May, maybe June in some places. That’s great news! Even if I’m wrong in herd immunity assumptions, vaccines plus prior infections gets us there in July. Even if there are still cases of illness, COVID deaths will be so uncommon as to undermine any remaining arguments for continuing assaults on our personal liberty in the name of public health. Of course, they will still try. I’m even more confident of that prediction.
Be it Smallpox, Polio, Diphtheria or COVID, immunization is a time-tested and scientifically sound measure that has made our modern civilization possible. I recommend that nearly everyone eligible get immunized as soon as possible. It will help you and those around you to end this. When you are immunized, you can fully resume social contact and the activities you love with the people you love. (Always seek medical advice only from your own personal physician who can evaluate your unique situation.)
Apart from a break from progress in the vaccination rate, the biggest health risks I see over the next three months are continuing negative effects of social isolation, lack of schooling and economic losses. The process of discovering the damage we have wrought because of the lockdowns will take years to unravel.
Dr. Thomas Talbot is a Pediatrician and a retired U.S. Army Medical Corps Officer. He currently specializes in the field of medical simulation technology and medical virtual reality applications. He holds associate professorships in Pediatrics and Medical Education at two well-known U.S. medical colleges.