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Opinion: Trump's comments on COVID-19 'herd immunity' are dangerous

Abdullah Hammoud, Katie Scott and Abdul El-Sayed

President Donald Trump was honest for once about his pandemic strategy, and we should take him at his word. As health care professionals and public servants, we have a duty to warn the public about this reckless course.

Now that Trump has contracted the virus, we wish him, the first lady and Hope Hicks speedy, symptom-free recoveries, but we can only hope contracting COVID-19 will inspire the president and everyone around him to fight this deadly virus with the utmost seriousness and heed the advice of medical experts.

We can only hope contracting COVID-19 will inspire the president to fight this deadly virus with the utmost seriousness, the authors write.

In terms of national policy, that means consistent, science-based, reality-driven policies and public repudiation of the fatal insanity of herd immunity.

During Trump's town hall with ABC News last month he was questioned about his repeated assertions that the COVID-19 pandemic will just “disappear.” When trying to explain how this miracle would occur, Trump said that the population would develop “herd mentality.” What he meant was “herd immunity.”

Herd immunity is a common enough idea in public health. Once about 70% of a population has developed immunity to a disease, either through infection or vaccination, the disease stops spreading. Even those who do not have immunity, say because of their inability to be vaccinated, have some protection. The virus cannot make it through the rest of the “herd” to reach the vulnerable.

Here's the problem: We don't have a vaccine, and won't for a while yet. The only way to reach herd immunity is to let the virus rampage through the population. This is like saying that your firefighting strategy is to let the house burn down. See? No more fire.

It gets worse. We're still learning about COVID-19, but if it is like similar viruses we may never reach herd immunity. That's because the immunity you get from a COVID-19 infection may only be short-lived. Remember how you get a cold every year? That's partially because we lose our immunity to some viruses over time.

If we applied herd immunity, then millions of Americans would likely die, beyond the 200,000 that have already been taken from us, in pursuit of an impossible goal. The lethally faulty reasoning of those pushing herd immunity is one reason Dr. Anthony Fauci has continued to push back hard against the likes of Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, who should know better.

We cannot overstate how reckless and perverse this course of action is. We should not sacrifice our fellow Americans, especially our elders and the vulnerable, to achieve herd immunity.

State Rep. Abdullah Hammoud, D-Dearborn, holds a masters of public health from the University of Michigan. Katie Scott, RN, is vice president of the Michigan Nurses Association. Dr. Abdul El-Sayed formerly served as the director of the Detroit Department of Public Health.