Opinion: ‘Level with Public’

by Marty Makary

Amid dire COVID warnings, one crucial fact has been largely ignored: Cases are down 77 percent over the past six weeks.

Cases are declining faster than expected in large part because natural immunity from prior infection is far more common than tests can measure.

Testing has been capturing from 10 to 25 percent of infections, depending on when during the pandemic someone got the virus. Applying a time-weighted case capture average of 1 in 6.5 to the cumulative 28 million confirmed cases would mean about 55 percent of Americans have
natural immunity.

Now add people getting vaccinated. As of last week, 15 percent of Americans had received the vaccine. Former Food and Drug Commissioner Scott Gottlieb estimates 250 million doses will have been delivered to some 150 million people by the end of March.

There is reason to think the country is racing toward an extremely low level of infection. As more people have been infected, most of whom have mild or no symptoms, there are fewer Americans left to be infected. At the current trajectory, I expect COVID will be mostly gone by April, allowing Americans to resume normal life.

In my conversations with medical experts, they often dismiss natural immunity, arguing that we don’t have data. The data does not fit the classic model. There’s no control group, but the observational data is compelling.

Some medical experts privately agree with my prediction that there may be very little COVID-19 by April but suggest I not talk publicly about herd immunity because people might become complacent or might decline the vaccine.

But scientists shouldn’t try to manipulate the public by hiding the truth. As we encourage everyone to get a vaccine, we also need to reopen society to limit the damage of closures and prolonged isolation. Contingency planning for an open economy by April can deliver hope to those in despair and to those who have made large personal sacrifices.

This is an excerpt of a commentary that appeared in the Feb. 18 issue of the Wall Street Journal. Dr. Makary is a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Bloomberg School of Public Health, chief medical adviser to Sesame Care, and author of “The Price We Pay.”