The Cynical Case for Herd Immunity

Alan Zendell, October 15, 2020

A group of Iowa farmers erected this billboard to guide people to Wednesday’s rally at the Des Moines, IA airport. As rich as the English language is in adjectives and adverbs, it is insufficient to describe the utter chutzbah the sign represents.

Was it meant as a sick joke? Was it sarcasm? Or was it simply an in-your-face slap at Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx? Whichever, it was an implied insult to the people of Iowa, in particular to Trump’s loyal base there. It says loud and clear that Trump views his supporters as expendable losers whose only value to him is the votes they cast.

Of all the things Trump has said and done as president, this sign may be the most outrageous. He spends a large portion of every rally telling his audience that the pandemic is over, that we’ve defeated the COVID-19 virus and it’s fading away. All that while the number of new recorded cases in the United States approached 60,000 and the number of new COVID-related deaths exceeded 1,000 yesterday in a rising trend. This, as new data released by the CDC about unexpected deaths nationwide suggest that deaths from COVID are probably being undercounted by at least 50%.

Yesterday, writing about Trump’s election end game, I said I had no idea what was going on in Trump’s mind. His nonstop schedule of rallies in which hardly any of the attendees wear masks and people are packed in as tightly as possible seemed to me to be spiteful more than anything else. Nobel laureate, economist Paul Krugman wrote as much in a New York Times Op-ed last Sunday: “We must assume, based on all evidence, that Donald Trump’s primary motivation is not rooted in any political calculus, but is pure, unadulterated spite.” 

I no longer have no idea what Trump is thinking. Consider how his version of pandemic-related events evolved in recent weeks. First, he claimed that he took heroic action in banning travel from China and saved two million American lives, which was supposed to make voters feel gratitude that his policies have so far resulted in only 217,000 deaths. Having recovered from his own case of COVID after a combination of treatments no other American could expect to receive, he decided that the virus was “no big deal” and people should stop worrying about it.

With the release of the Great Barrington Declaration, signed by a group of scientists and medical professionals that has been unversally condemned by the mainstream public health community, we see what Trump’s final play is. The Declaration says two things. One is that people who are at low risk of serious complications and death from COVID should go about their lives normally – no masks, no social distancing – with the deliberate intent of allowing the virus to spread through the community until herd immunity is achieved. And while this is going on, we’re supposed to identify and isolate those seriously at risk to protect them from being infected.

The CDC estimates that such an approach would result in at least two million more deaths, and possibly many more. I suppose Trump thinks that’s a fair trade for the two million he claims to have already saved. But the bottom line is that the idea, as underlined by the aforementioned billboard in Iowa, is a cynical statement that those who die in the service of Trump’s re-election campaign are expendable. Attitudes like this are reminiscent of Joseph Stalin using tens of millions of people as cannon fodder to stop the Nazi advance during World War 2.

Interviewed by ABC News this morning, Anthony Fauci said, “this idea that we have the power to protect the vulnerable is total nonsense … and you’ll wind up with many more … hospitalizations and deaths. So I think that we just got to look that square in the eye and say it’s nonsense.” And WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called herd immunity “scientifically and ethically problematic. … Never in the history of public health has herd immunity been used as a strategy for responding to an outbreak, let alone a pandemic.”

Tedros’ point is that the concept of herd immunity is only used in conjuction with an effective vaccine. In that context, achieving herd immunity tells us that the vaccine worked. The Great Barrington Declaration’s approach is equivalent to throwing people into a pit of vipers to see how many develop immunity to snake venom.

Mandarin philosophy has always held that it is both moral and necessary to sacrifice the present generation when it is deemed necessary for the benefit of future poopulations. Yet even the Chinese Communists, while lying about the extent of the COVID virus, took the most draconian measures of any major nation to stop the spread of the virus to save lives. Trying to achieve herd immunity through mass infection was too cynical even for Xi Jinping, but not apparently, for Donald Trump.

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2 Responses to The Cynical Case for Herd Immunity

  1. William Kiehl says:

    Trump thinks that his base is stupid. He is correct.

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