In an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal on Sunday, a Johns Hopkins medical professor said he believes the U.S. will be able to reach “herd immunity” in a few months time and predicted that “COVID will be mostly gone by April, allowing Americans to resume normal life.”
The opinion piece by Dr. Marty Makary cites the recent decline in case rates as evidence that the U.S. is nearing herd immunity. While his findings come as a welcome sign to Americans weary of the pandemic, it stands in stark contrast to views held by top health officials in both the Trump and Biden administrations.
In the Wall Street Journal, Makary noted that new cases of COVID-19 have decreased by 77% in the last six weeks. Indeed, the COVID Tracking Project notes that the seven-day rolling average of daily cases has fallen from nearly 250,000 a day in mid-January to about 64,000 a day as of Sunday.
While CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky attributed falling case rates to Americans more readily adopting social distancing measures in recent months, Makary says the U.S. is nearing levels of natural immunity. He claimed that COVID-19 tests are only capturing “10% to 25% of infections,” meaning that close to 55% of Americans are already naturally immune to the virus.
Makary also noted that those immune to the virus will only increase in the months to come as more Americans get vaccinated. He cited projections from former Food and Drug Commissioner Scott Gottlieb estimating that 250 million doses will have been delivered to some 150 million people by the end of March.
“As more people have been infected, most of whom have mild or no symptoms, there are fewer Americans left to be infected,” Makary wrote. “At the current trajectory, I expect COVID will be mostly gone by April, allowing Americans to resume normal life.”
However, other top health officials aren’t as optimistic as Makary. On Sunday, Gottlieb told CBS’ Face the Nation that he didn’t think the U.S. would ever reach “true” herd immunity, saying that COVID-19 would continue to circulate among the population, albeit at much lower levels.
“I don’t really think we’re ever going to reach full herd immunity,” Gottlieb said. “This isn’t going to be like measles or smallpox, which just sort of goes away. COVID is going to continue to circulate at a low level.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top expert in infectious diseases, made similar statements last year. In an interview with the TB Alliance in July, Fauci said he doesn’t “really see us eradicating” COVID-19. He cited the virus’ ability to transmit from human to human and the wide range of symptoms it can produce.
“I have never seen infection in which you have such a broad range literally no symptoms at all in a substantial proportion of the population to some who get ill with minor symptoms to some who get ill enough to be in bed for weeks,” he said. “Others get hospitalized, require oxygen, intensive care, ventilation and death. The involvement with the same pathogen is very unique.”
Fauci and other health experts have said that even when the U.S. reaches herd immunity, Americans will need to continue to wear masks for “several, several months.” On Sunday, Fauci said he expected Americans to be wearing masks into 2022.