Fact-checking site pans Wall Street Journal opinion piece claiming US could have herd immunity by April

Credit: Investigate Europe
Credit: Investigate Europe

This Wall Street Journal opinion piece, published on 18 February 2021, claimed in its headline that the U.S. will “have herd immunity by April”. Written by Marty Makary, a professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, the article received more than 220,000 interactions and 37,000 shares on Facebook.

The headline’s claim is built in large part on the assumption that “55% of Americans have natural immunity” to COVID-19 through prior infection. However, experts who reviewed the article told Health Feedback that this assumption wasn’t supported by the data. 

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[Disease ecology expert Marm] Kilpatrick explained that the proportion of COVID-19 infections detected by testing is unknown, since there are no representative serosurveys available for the U.S. Serosurveys, or seroprevalence studies, measure the proportion of people who have antibodies to a pathogen. 

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Its claim that natural infection confers sufficient herd immunity to end the COVID-19 epidemic in the U.S. also doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, when we consider the example of Manaus. The city experienced a largely uncontrolled spread of COVID-19, which resulted in a high infection rate. Yet the city still saw a resurgence of COVID-19 that was worse than the first wave.

While the U.S. is indeed experiencing a fall in the number of new COVID-19 cases, scientists have urged Americans to avoid complacency.

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