Seares: DOH-7's Bernadas talks of herd immunity in Cebu City. White House adopts it as policy in fight vs Covid. But there's 'still no data or evidence' that it works.

News Sense

AT ABOUT the same time Regional Health Director Jaime Bernadas disclosed his finding about anti-body tests on vendors at Cebu City's Carbon Market, US President Trump began espousing in his reelection rallies the theory of "herd immunity."

Trump suggests that since he became "immune" to the coronavirus after his illness, the people can be immune too in the same manner. He wants people to believe that contracting Covid-19 is the solution to the pandemic. American media reported that the White House has adopted the policy: "White House embraces immunity declaration," New York Times, 10/15/20. "New Trump pandemic adviser pushes controversial herd immunity strategy," Washington Post, 8/31/20.

Test on Carbon vendors

Bernadas Wednesday, October 14, said that 1,047 or 47.48 percent of 2,191 Carbon vendors tested positive, indicating they were without symptoms and no longer actively infected. Aside from the good news that Cebu has "flattened the curve," he said that more and more people here have responded to the virus exposure and, as quoted by the government's Philippine News Agency (PNA), "we are on the road to achieving herd immunity."

Herd immunity was once mistakenly called by Trump as herd mentality, which means mob or pack mentality, not the immunity from Covid-19. But confusion in tagging an anti-virus strategy is much less harmless than embracing it when it is still a subject of controversy and has not yet been adopted by most epidemic experts.

Bernadas's pitch

It must be clear though that DOH-7's Bernadas, unlike Trump and his policy advisers who call the shots for the American government, has not laid down a national policy for our country. Bernadas has no authority to decide for President Rodrigo Duterte and the national task force IATF.

The DOH-7 chief was sharing with OPAV's Michael Dino, Duterte's assistant for the Visayas, results in the tests on the Carbon vendors and what they could mean. It might help shape national policy, if similar tests elsewhere in the country, would yield similar findings.

For now, Bernadas has stirred public interest in herd immunity. Trump, it has become increasingly clear, may be using "herd immunity" to lead the American people to the valley of salvation -- or to a cliff, from which thousands more (current toll: 217,000) could die.

'Dangers of strategy'

Deepti Gurdasani, an M.D. and PhD. of Queen Mary University of London, joined by more than 80 researchers, wrote an open letter to The Lancet, a leading world medical journal, about the dangers of herd immunity, including these:

[1] There is no proof of lasting immunity to Sars-Cov-2 following natural infection. Trump himself could not say how long his supposed immunity would last.

[2] It would place an "unacceptable burden on healthcare workers and the economy."

[3] It would worsen the "socio-economic inequities and structural discrimination already laid bare" by the epidemic.

They noted that the herd immunity theory was long dismissed by public health officials as "untenable." It gained force only recently after the Trump administration promoted the strategy as described in the "Great Barrington Declaration," which argues against lockdowns and for full reopening of work and school.

'With no data or evidence'

Trump's rallies that involve huge gathering of people, with no masks and physical distancing, and his advocacy for total-in-person jobs and classes reflect the thinking of the Barrington document. The "vulnerable," whom it didn't define but must refer to the elderly and the young, are the only ones who need to shelter in place.

Associations such as the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) and the HIV Medicine Association (HIVMA) strongly denounce the herd immunity plan, saying it comes "without data or evidence."

Would Bernadas's test results from Carbon vendors not suffice? Definitely, it is just a fraction of the population of Cebu City and limited to a small community of people engaged in the same occupation.

How many must be infected

What percentage of a community must be immune to achieve herd immunity for the country? The more contagious the disease, the experts say, the greater the proportion of the population must be immune to the disease to cut the chain of transmission. Experts say that in the US, 70% of the population (328.2 million compared to the Philippines' 107.7 million) must recover to stop the epidemic.

There are no vaccines yet, so Trump and his administration appear to advocate infection so they can develop antibodies against future Covid assault. Trump offered at a rally this week to give fat kisses to the men and women in the audience, in effect suggesting he'd infect them so they could be struck with coronavirus and be immune like their president.

The way he is promoting the strategy, as was his pitch for laundry bleach as virus treatment, suggests recklessness that we hope does not afflict our own health experts and political leaders.


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