Raise your hand if you believe we are closer to reaching herd immunity to COVID-19 than what the experts are reporting.
Conventional wisdom is that a minimum two-thirds of the population must be immune to a virus, through either natural immunity or a vaccine, before there is herd immunity. It’s the point where the spread of the virus will greatly decline due to a smaller number of unprotected hosts to infect.
We don’t have a vaccine yet, but we do have some positivity numbers.
There are 328 million people in this country, according to the Census Bureau. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that seven million have tested positive for the virus. That’s about two percent.
Those who have tested positive for the virus and those who had the virus are two different numbers, though. Some were asymptomatic, never tested, and never knew they had COVID-19.
Stanford University researchers tried to get a handle on the “real” number of positives. A study in July and recently published in the medical journal, The Lancet, estimated that nationwide about 10% may have COVID-19 antibodies. Still a low number.
Some areas of the country may have higher saturation levels, but even hard-hit New York City is estimated at just 22%. That number, too, is far away from the minimum two-thirds needed to reach herd immunity.
But these numbers may be misleadingly low.
Scientists, health care professionals, politicians, and the media have made it abundantly clear that COVID-19 is a highly contagious virus and a raging pandemic. But even though this monster has been with us for more than six months, the experts still place at least 80 – 90% of the population as uninfected.
Yes, we’re social distancing, wearing cotton masks, and washing our hands. It seems doubtful, though, that these simple measures are outsmarting something as viral as COVID-19.
Maybe the Stanford research is off and there are far more individuals that were asymptomatic, didn’t know it, and now have antibodies that are protecting them.
Or, there may be a possibility that some have a type of natural immunity against the virus.
The SARS-CoV-2 virus, responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic, is part of a family of coronaviruses. Four are responsible for a type of common cold. Two are more dangerous. All six spark the production of antibodies and memory T cells. T cells help to kill infected cells and activate and recruit immune cells. They then retain some of these disease-fighting cells as memory cells. The next time they’re exposed to a similar pathogen, the memory cells quickly go into battle again.
The National Institutes of Health shared research from LaJolla Institute for Immunology. It found that of the SARS-CoV-2 and common cold coronavirus fragments that were most similar (at least 67% genetic similarity), 57% showed cross-reactivity by memory T cells. “We have now proven that, in some people, pre-existing T cell memory against common cold coronaviruses can cross-recognize SARS-CoV-2 down to the exact molecular structures.”
It would explain why some people, the same age and with the same health conditions, have very different responses to COVID-19. Some may have a degree of protection due to a past coronavirus infection and have very mild symptoms. Others, whose bodies are completely naïve to the virus and encountering it for the very first time, will struggle with it. For far too many—200,000—it’s been deadly.
And all of this helps some answer the question, “How is it possible to be in a raging pandemic for six months, to live life, and not contract COVID-19?” Someone like the essential service provider who never isolated and went to work every day throughout this entire pandemic. Or the one who felt badly for restaurants that were forced to close for two or more months and supported their reopening by dining in their establishments. And people who rewarded the few county fairs and city festivals that never canceled their events, by attending their functions.
Of course, there is one last possibility. Perhaps 80 – 90% of the population has just been lucky.
But they deserve a more scientific explanation from the experts.