Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Me on herd immunity

I've done a number of posts where I plug articles that promote the herd immunity strategy, but that might foster a misimpression of my position, or the reasoning behind my position, so perhaps I owe readers a more detailed explanation. 

1. My preference for the herd immunity strategy doesn't presume that that's more effective than the social distancing strategy. For one thing, I'm not scientifically qualified to assess their comparative effectiveness. And the experts disagree.

2. At this stage of the pandemic, social distancing has been more widely tested that herd immunity. From what I've read, its effectiveness is dramatically disparate from one locality to another.

Also, from what I've read, many of the fatalities are chalked up to the virus when in fact there were multiple causes of death.

Although herd immunity hasn't been as widely tested during the pandemic, it doesn't seem to be less effective than social distancing (from what I've read). Likewise, based on what I've read, countries that implement the herd immunity strategy don't appear to be clearly or consistently worse off than localities that implement social distancing. Rather, countries opting for herd immunity seem to be worse off than some social distancing localities but better off then other social distancing localities. 

From what I've read, the social distancing strategy isn't demonstrably more effective or significantly more effective than the herd immunity strategy. Indeed, it may be less effective. 

3. In addition, the hope is that we'll develop a vaccine. But what if we're unable to develop a vaccine? Or what if we develop a vaccine, but the virus mutates to a strain that outwits the vaccine? In that event, isn't herd immunity our only fallback?

4. So my position isn't based on the comparative effectiveness of the two alternatives. That's not my rationale or justification. My position doesn't require me to have a firm opinion on that question. Rather, my position is that if you have two alternatives, you should opt for the one that does the least overall damage. If one alternative has harmful side-effects which the other one lacks, you opt for the alternative without the collateral damage. So there's more than one consideration in play. And that's exacerbated by unanswered questions regarding the comparative effectiveness of the two alternatives. 

5. Apropos (4), lockdowns and stay at home orders are having catastrophic economic side-effects. They seem to be plunging the world into an economic death spiral. 

In addition, they've led to the suspension of Constitutional rights. Indeed, to say that's a side-effect is rather euphemistic since Democrat officials are using the pandemic as a pretext to flex their progressive muscles. 

I'm contrasting the knowns with the unknowns. And overall cost/benefit analysis. So that's my actual position, or the reasoning behind my position. 


  1. Initially, the purpose of the lockdown was to "flatten the curve" so as not to overwhelm our medical facilities. That has been achieved. (We do still need to isolate the vulnerable in order to buy us time finding viable treatments and developing vaccines.)

    There doesn't seem to be a meaningful purpose in isolating those below 50 or so, especially those without significant co-morbidities. The only real question is how to keep the elderly and the infirm safe from those family members who return to work.

  2. To be sure, herd immunity isn't a strategy; it's a principle. A strategy can be developed based on an understanding of herd immunity, but we need to understand the principle better.