Herd Immunity Strategy Is Especially Dangerous for Communities of Color

By Shani Saxon Sep 01, 2020

The Trump administration is beginning to embrace COVID-19 policies that support the controversial idea of “herd immunity,” which is worrisome to health officials, The Washington Post reports. The strategy would essentially allow the coronavirus to intentionally spread throughout a majority of the population as a way to build resistance, while also working to protect the most vulnerable members of society. 

Reports The Post:

In theory, as the number of survivors with immunity increases to a certain level, the virus’s spread would slow and eventually stop. The only problem: A whole lot of people would die before that point. 

The Post reports that officials from The World Health Organization (WHO) gave a news briefing last week and called the idea of herd immunity “very dangerous.” 

“If we think about herd immunity in a natural sense of just letting a virus run, it’s very dangerous,” Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on the covid-19 pandemic, said at the press conference. “A lot of people would die.”

According to The Post:

The United Kingdom pursued such a strategy early on but abandoned it when officials saw the consequences. Sweden, which pursued a similar strategy, has been heavily criticized by public health officials and infectious-disease experts as reckless: The country has among the highest infection and death rates in the world. 

Part of the herd immunity strategy involves allowing the virus to spread among younger members of the population and segregating seniors, nursing home residents and those with underlying conditions, according to The Post. That idea is also impractical, Washington Post health reporter Yasmeen Abutaleb explained in an interview with Democracy Now. “Vulnerable people live with healthy people,” she said. “And…the science on coronavirus is still evolving, so there are plenty of young, healthy people who get coronavirus and die or who develop long-term complications.” 

In the United States, “a larger portion of young and middle-aged people here have higher rates than elsewhere of obesity, heart and lung disease and other health issues that make them more likely to have serious or lethal cases of the disease,” The Post reports. 

Reports The Post:

With a population of 328 million in the United States, it may require more than 2 million deaths to reach a 65 percent threshold of herd immunity, assuming the virus has a 1 percent fatality rate, according to an analysis by The Washington Post. Even if both the herd immunity threshold and the fatality rate proved to be toward the lower end of current estimates — with 40 percent needing to be infected and a 0.5 percent fatality rate — the country could still expect 656,000 deaths to achieve herd immunity, nearly four times as many as the country has already suffered. 

That scenario would impact communities of color the hardest. As Colorlines previously reported, Black people have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. “… When you have a situation like the coronavirus, [the African American community] are suffering disproportionately,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during a press conference in April. 

In late May, NPR published covid-19 data “collected by the COVID Racial Tracker, a joint project of the Antiracist Research & Policy Center and the COVID Tracking Project.” 

According to NPR, the research showed:


  • Nationally, African-American deaths from COVID-19 are nearly two times greater than would be expected based on their share of the population. In four states, the rate is three or more times greater. 
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  • In 42 states plus Washington D.C., Hispanics/Latinos make up a greater share of confirmed cases than their share of the population. In eight states, it’s more than four times greater. 
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  • White deaths from COVID-19 are lower than their share of the population in 37 states and the District of Columbia.  
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Sherita Golden, a specialist in endocrinology, spoke to Johns Hopkins Medicine about heath disparities in communities of color, stating many of these issues were in place well before the pandemic. According to Johns Hopkins:

Golden points out that people of color have a higher burden of chronic health conditions associated with a poor outcome from COVID-19, including diabetes, heart disease and lung disease. In a study cited by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 90% of those hospitalized with severe COVID-19 had at least one of these underlying medical conditions

Gregg Gonsalves from the Yale School of Public Health, told Democracy Now that “we have many more people with underlying conditions in the United States. We also don’t have the social safety net or the healthcare infrastructure that many of the Nordic countries have,” he said. “So, we won’t even be able to deal with the sort of impact of the deaths and suffering we’d see by a continuation of the White House’s [herd immunity] strategy.”