Guest opinion: Herd immunity is the only way to beat Covid-19

Stuart Reid 01

Governor Gary Herbert is right not to close down Utah society again. Let’s face it, sickness is necessary to save lives. There is no way around that reality, however counterintuitive it may seem. 

The surge in COVID-19 cases in Utah and the other states is necessary to build up the requisite “herd immunity” that will save lives in the long run. All other strategies just prolong the inevitable while undermining the economic and social wellbeing of Utah and the nation. 

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former head of the Food and Drug Administration, admitted that mitigation strategies are not as effective as hoped. He stated: “While mitigation didn’t fail, I think it’s fair to say that it didn’t work as well as we expected.”

Dr. Rick Bright, former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, a federal agency overseeing vaccine development and management, reported that it is overly optimistic to expect a useable vaccine within the next 12-18 months, particularly when the federal government is failing to prepare for wide and equitable distribution.

Dr. Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Prevention, said: “About 5% of the US population has been infected to date with the virus, this virus is not going to rest until it gets to about 60% or 70%. We’re not driving this tiger, we’re riding it.”

Dr. Angela Dunn, Utah’s leading epidemiologist, stated: “We’re not going to be able to prevent disease effectively until 60% to 80% of the population is immune to COVID-19. They either get infected or they get a vaccine.”

It should be obvious a shelter-in-place economy cannot be sustained any longer, let alone for another 12-18 months waiting for an ever-illusive vaccine. Unemployment rates have already equaled the levels of the Great Depression. A lost generation of less-educated youth might well cap the economy for a decade.

Increasingly, people across the nation are rising up against government. Social unrest has gone beyond the simple refusal to social distance and to wear masks. Already, many have had enough and their rebellious ranks are swelling as time passes.

An open society is really no longer an option. Still, it must be regulated by both the healthcare system’s ability to manage high levels of sickness during peak times of exposure and the ability to protect the vulnerable populations, including the elderly. 

Vulnerable populations, which are susceptible to higher COVID-19 mortality rates, must be safeguarded from exposure. They should be given the choice to quarantine with more effective support systems deployed to help them endure sheltering for up to two years. 

The rest of society should be set free to engage in normal everyday activities. While patiently waiting on an effective vaccine, and wait we will, allowing the more resilient populations to increase social activity will help expedite the herd immunity to the threshold necessary for COVID-19 to become less lethal. 

The sooner the following strategies are employed, fewer people will die, the economy will recover and society will stabilize.

1) Prepare to shelter for up to two years the vulnerable populations on a voluntary basis, providing necessary financial and health security;

2) prepare the healthcare system for peak exposure events, including adding temporary hospital annexations;

3) thoroughly test and trace exposed populations;

4) open work, worship, shopping, entertainment and recreation centers to the more resilient populations; and

5) allow teachers and students to return to their schools.

While it seems frightening to fully reopen society to the resilient populations, it is necessary to expeditiously dilute the virulency of the virus, thus saving more lives over time. Returning to full activity, the economic recovery and social stability therefrom will help better financially and medically underwrite the vulnerable populations, which should be the foremost priority going forward.  

Stuart C. Reid, former Utah state senator and community and economic development director for Ogden City and Salt Lake City.