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John Hopkins Doctor Thinks COVID Will Be Largely Gone By April, Half of U.S. Has Herd Immunity

Newsweek logo Newsweek 2/19/2021 Katherine Fung
a group of people walking down a street: National Football League fans convene in downtown Tampa ahead of Super Bowl LV during the COVID-19 pandemic on January 30, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. Dr. Marty Makary from John Hopkins University predicts that COVID-19 will be "mostly gone" by April due to herd immunity. © Octavio Jones/Stringer National Football League fans convene in downtown Tampa ahead of Super Bowl LV during the COVID-19 pandemic on January 30, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. Dr. Marty Makary from John Hopkins University predicts that COVID-19 will be "mostly gone" by April due to herd immunity.

Dr. Marty Makary, a surgeon and a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Bloomberg School of Public Health, believes that the coronavirus will be "mostly gone" by April.

In an op-ed published by The Wall Street Journal on Friday, Makary argued that half of the U.S. has already reached herd immunity because there are more coronavirus cases in the country, possibly 6.5 times as many, than the 28 million that have been reported.

Combined with the 15 percent of Americans who have already begun receiving the vaccine, the doctor argued that normal life will return by the spring.

"There is reason to think the country is racing toward an extremely low level of infection," Makary wrote. "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."

Herd immunity has been a controversial subject over the course of the coronavirus pandemic. The term is used to describe what happens when the virus can no longer widely spread because a large proponent of the population is no longer susceptible.

During the pandemic, some politicians have suggested letting most of society return to normal so that the virus could run its course. But many epidemiologists have repeatedly shut down the idea, arguing that it's not a defensible plan and pointing to the fact that it would lead to a catastrophic loss of lives with no guarantee that immunity would be achieved.

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In the U.S., more than 490,000 Americans have died from COVID-19.

Markary argued that while the topic of natural immunity has often been rejected by most experts in the medical field due to a lack of data, the observational data is showing the majority of Americans may already be protected not only from COVID-19 but also its new variants.

"But the consistent and rapid decline in daily cases since Jan. 8 can be explained only by natural immunity," Makary wrote. "Behavior didn't suddenly improve over the holidays; Americans traveled more over Christmas than they had since March. Vaccines also don't explain the steep decline in January. Vaccination rates were low and they take weeks to kick in."

"Many experts, along with politicians and journalists, are afraid to talk about herd immunity. The term has political overtones because some suggested the U.S. simply let COVID rip to achieve herd immunity. That was a reckless idea," he added. "But herd immunity is the inevitable result of viral spread and vaccination. When the chain of virus transmission has been broken in multiple places, it's harder for it to spread—and that includes the new strains."

His viewpoint has been disputed by other experts like Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Rochelle Wallensky, who said on Wednesday that the U.S. has not vaccinated nearly enough Americans to reach herd immunity.

During the briefing, Wallensky attributed the decrease in COVID-19 cases to the lack of travel and large gatherings that were more common over the holiday season.

On Thursday, White House COVID adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said that it would well after the summer until things return to "normal."

Fauci said if normal means "getting back to a situation where you can have theaters that might be able to have below capacity, that restaurants, indoor dining can be happening, but with moderately diminished capacity," then "that's going to be somewhere between the fall and the end of the year."

President Joe Biden has also discussed a similar timeline to Fauci's. During his CNN town hall on Tuesday, he said, "As my mother would say, with the grace of God and the goodwill of the neighbors, that by next Christmas I think we'll be in a very different circumstance, God willing, than we are today,"

However, Makary continued to defend his opinions in a Friday interview with Fox News.

"There's a 76 percent reduction in daily cases over the last six weeks," Makary said. "You, as a scientist, have to ask why. And we cannot explain that by vaccinated immunity. We can't explain it by a sudden change in behavior. It's natural immunity, and it's now over 50 percent of the population."

Newsweek reached out to the CDC for further comment but did not hear back before publication.

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