By: Karen Zhu
Do We Actually Want Them Infected?
“In 2019 you would have been considered a quack if you suggested that the best way to get rid of a virus is to spread the virus. But that became mainstream and influenced politicians at the highest levels.” This is what Jonathan Howard, a neurologist at New York University wrote in his new book “We Want Them Infected.” His new book provides a new look on the pandemic and how what we think is right isn’t always the answer we were looking for.
In his book, Howard expresses his disdain for the promoters of the “Great Barrington Declaration,” a declaration for herd immunity published in October 2020 and signed initially by epidemiologists Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford; Martin Kulldorff, then of Harvard; and Sunetra Gupta of Oxford. (Thousands of other academics and scientists would later add their signatures. The declaration now has more than 937 thousand signatures.)
The core of the declaration was to oppose quarantine. Its solution was what its drafters called “focused protection.” This meant allowing “those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally, thus getting covid, and build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk” — chiefly, seniors. Older people who live at home, the declaration stated, should be kept apart from other family members except by meeting them outside, and “should have groceries and other essentials delivered to their home.
The declaration’s authors, Howard writes, never wrote how to achieve their goals. Delivering food and supplies to millions of housebound seniors? In a Hoover Institution interview, Bhattacharya said, “We could have offered free DoorDash to older people.” As Howard observes, Bhattacharya was remarkably optimistic about “creating a program overnight to deliver fresh food to tens of millions of seniors for months on end throughout the entire country.” Similar problems were addressed by multigenerational households, in which millions of vulnerable elders live. Older family members, the declaration authors wrote, “might temporarily be able to live with an older friend or sibling, with whom they can self-isolate together during the height of community transmission. As a last resort, empty hotel rooms could be used for temporary housing.”
So wait, does it actually work?
There are a number of problems with the herd immunity theory. One is that immunity from COVID infection tends to diminish over time rather than become permanent. Moreover, infection with one variant of the virus doesn’t confer immunity for the many other types of variants. Another problem is that COVID can still be a deadly disease, exposing anyone infected to a risk. In addition, the idea that COVID could be defeated through the natural expansion of herd immunity persuaded many people not to bother with proven solutions, including social distancing, masking and even vaccination. Although it is close, the US still has not achieved the goal of herd immunity. The U.S. death toll stands at 1.13 million, hundreds of children have died, and an estimated 245,000 children have lost one or both parents to COVID.