Conservative Estimates Say Herd Immunity In U.S. Would Cost 500,000 Lives

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Could herd immunity really be the answer to ending the COVID-19 pandemic?

It’s been put forth as a strategy by some doctors and members of the Trump Administration, but CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez says the human toll would be massive.

Herd immunity means if enough people get sick and recover from an infections disease, their immunity will keep the virus from infecting others.

Huge numbers of people would have to get sick to achieve it. Estimates for the coronavirus range from 60% to 80% of the population. At this point, about 8% of the U.S. population have been infected.

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Herd immunity has never been achieved without a vaccine and, even with a COVID vaccine, it’s not clear how strong it would be or how long immunity would last. There have been a few cases of people getting COVID-19 twice.

If the virus is allowed to spread unchecked throughout the population, it would be virtually impossible to isolate high-risk individuals from low-risk. The toll would be immense.

“A lot of people who do not die still have very serious illness and end up in the hospital and need intensive care,” said Dr. Gigi Kwik Gronvall of Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “It would overwhelm already pretty stretched hospitals.”

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The death toll would be just as devastating.

Using the latest numbers from Johns Hopkins of more than 8 million COVID-19 cases and nearly 220,000 deaths, the death rate is more than 2.5%.

Even if we only need 60% of the population to achieve herd immunity, that still means more than 5 million deaths from COVID-19.

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Improved medical care, drugs and a possible vaccine would lower the death rate; but even the most conservative estimates say a herd immunity strategy would mean at least another 500,000 dead Americans.

Most deaths would likely come from minority communities and the elderly.

For the top questions people have been asking about the coronavirus, visit cbsnewyork.com/max, and go to facebook.com/cbsnewyork to submit your question.

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