As the impact of social distancing is being felt in dwindling economies, stir-crazy households and cash-starved businesses around the world, discussions of creating herd immunity have arisen, begging the question: Could letting everybody out be a quicker way out of this mess?

What that would look like is basically what is happening in Sweden — people practicing some degree of social distancing but restaurants and bars remaining open, borders remaining open and lots of businesses carrying on as usual while, in theory, the virus that causes COVID-19 infects so many people there are not enough hosts left for it to survive.

According to Swedish epidemiologists, herd immunity in that country could be established within two weeks.

But the Swedish experiment is filled with holes, said Dennis Carroll, senior fellow at the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University, formerly a senior infectious diseases advisor for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Sweden started acting like they were in Las Vegas,” Carroll said. “Basically they took a big gamble without any information like whether there is protective immunity for COVID-19 and which populations need to be protected.”


Several ingredients are required for herd immunity to work, Carroll said. The first is that people have developed protective immunity.

The best way to do that, with many diseases, is with a vaccine — enough people are immunized with antibodies to halt the disease’s spread.

Think of measles, a disease that once you’ve had it, you’ll never have it again. Or the measles vaccine that, when widely used, effectively prevents the disease from reappearing.

“With measles, there’s a sterilizing immunity that’s long-lasting,” said Dr. Richard Rupp, professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Medical Branch.

“With herd immunity minus a vaccine, it depends on the notion that once you’ve had it, you don’t get it again,” Rupp said.

Bottom line: We don’t know that about COVID-19, he said.

Other coronaviruses, such as those that cause the common cold, occur repeatedly, some as often as every year.

“We get them over and over again,” Rupp said. “Having the infection doesn’t generate longstanding herd immunity.”

COVID-19, a brand-new coronavirus, has not been investigated enough at this point to determine whether it behaves the same as seasonal coronaviruses.

“If it turns out that it’s more like seasonal coronaviruses or influenza or a whole bunch of viruses we get over and over again in our lifetime, there really won’t be big role for creating herd immunity for COVID-19,” Rupp said.


The second ingredient for creating successful herd immunity is measuring the adverse effects, Carroll said.

“Can we begin to differentiate between populations that are more vulnerable to illness and death if infected? We’re getting clear information on this about COVID-19,” he said. “Most deaths are really occurring among people 60 years or older, and people with preexisting conditions like heart disease and diabetes.”

If the first criteria is met and it turns out COVID-19 does give protective immunity to those it infects, communities could then think about letting all people out or asking whether some people need to be held back.

“You’d have to hold back the high-risk groups,” Carroll said.

Sweden’s casual approach has led to the highest COVID-19 mortality numbers in Scandinavia, Carroll said. That’s because they were sloppy about protecting elderly people in nursing homes and adequately protecting those at high risk, he said.

“To create a successful herd immunity, if it all lines up and you can clearly state that 50 to 60 percent of the population have protective immunity, you’d let all the people under 60 or so, all the people not living with heart disease or diabetes back to work and out in the world, and the rest would stay at home. Then when everybody else has been infected, you start letting those at risk out,” Carroll said.

The idea is that when a big enough portion of the population has immunity against the virus, the virus has nowhere to go and transmission stops, Rupp said.

“If your body is immune, the virus needs to get into the next person. And if it doesn’t do that, it dies in you,” he said. “If you’re only surrounded by immune people, the virus can’t keep going.”


The two big ifs required to create a successful herd immunity — protective immunity from the virus and protection for the most vulnerable — precede other considerations a community must think about before it decides to just let everybody go their way.

One of those considerations is mobility and whether there are people moving in and out of a community who may not have protective immunity.

Galveston is a good example — a place with a relatively small population on an island but with millions of tourists coming and going on a regular basis.

“Let’s assume Texas goes for her immunity and you get 60 percent of the population with protective immunity, but then there are all these other people flying in from all over the place and that messes everything up,” Carroll said.

That is why a well-considered, unified and coordinated national approach is necessary for any kind of strategy, such as establishing herd immunity, to work, and we don’t have one, he said.

“A strategy like this needs to be seriously considered. We can’t be locked down forever,” Carroll said. “But we need to make sure of many things first.”

One of those things is an adequate supply of antibody testing that’s high quality, he said.

Antibody tests would show, among other things, who in the population already has been infected and, presumably, has protective immunity, at least until a vaccine is developed.

But the tests need to be consistently reliable. Problems with early antibody tests related to COVID-19 documented in a recent New York Times report include loose Food and Drug Administration regulation, allowing manufacturers to validate their own tests and risking a market flooded with inconsistent tests; confusing federal guidance about how to use the tests; and tests with a false high positive rate.

“The tests right now are all over the place,” Carroll said. “All of that needs to be tightened up so we can get clearer answers.”

Kathryn Eastburn: 409-683-5257;

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(51) comments

jimmy winston

Thank you! Everyone points to Sweden as setting an example amid the current outbreak, but like you said they are taking an IMMENSE gamble with people's lives.

Raymond Lewis

Informative article Ms. Eastburn.

Charlotte O'rourke

Very informative.

This reminds me of that college ethics course where you have a sinking life boat and must either throw 15 people overboard to live or die with the group. Absolute choices.

But in this pandemic scenario, you have the option to try and save lives or not through various degrees of social distancing behavior.

I’m learning who I don’t want to take a boat ride with.

Bailey Jones

Whether we open fast or slow, we're going to be in social distancing mode for the foreseeable future. There's a nice bit of science based discussion of masks, from PBS, here:

Bailey Jones

Also, this site has an excellent representation of data by country. It's easy to see who is doing the best job of containing the virus (China, Iceland, South Korea, Australia) and who is doing the worst job (guess).

Carlos Ponce

China? They falsify their numbers, Bailey. Are you a China operative?

Jim Forsythe

Carlos, what are the correct numbers for China? If you look at the number of people in China, they would have to underreport by a bunch to have a problem like other countries.

4,633 Deaths in China, population 1,438,313,285

55,564 Deaths in USA, population 327.17 million

Carlos Ponce

I posted to Bailey, "They falsify their numbers" so nobody really knows. But Newsweek writes, "A stack of urns at a funeral home in Wuhan, the city's official cremation rates, and reports of an overwhelmed health care system have prompted speculation that Wuhan's real COVID-19 death toll could be in the tens of thousands—despite the Chinese government reporting 2,535 deaths from just over 50,000 coronavirus infections."

Guo Wengui is a Chinese billionaire living in exile in the United States estimates 50,000 Coronavirus Deaths In Wuhan alone. Wengui says there are 49 crematoriums in Wuhan, and they've been working 24/7 for 17 days. Last week, a crematorium worker identified as "Mr. Yun" told a Chinese newspaper he and co-workers have been working 24 hours a day. Feb 10, 2020!/here-is-an-estimate-of-15m-coronavirus-cases-in-china-50000-deaths-in-wuhan-alone-20200210

"A new data intercepted by the United States reveals that 21 million people died in China from December 2019 to March 2020, US intelligence officials conclude in a classified report for the Trump administration."

So estimates are from tens of thousands to tens of millions.

How did they arrive at the 21 million number? "Beijing announced on March 19 that over 21 million cell phone accounts in China were canceled in the past three months while 840,000 landlines were closed."

Maybe 21 million Chinese didn't pay their phone bill......

Jim Forsythe

New Data Does NOT Reveal That 21 Million Chinese Died Of Coronavirus

An online article being shared uses a statistic about a drop in cellphone users to make a faulty supposition that this figure reflects COVID-19 deaths in China. These numbers are not correlated, fact-checkers have previously shown.

The original story mentioned that an intelligence report concluded that China has deliberately underreported the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the country. While it's true that a new report does suggest China's official figures are false, the News NT story incorrectly linked that reporting to a separate one about cellphone cancellations.

Expert analysts believe that the drop in the mobile users could partly be responsible for the number of migrant workers who canceled their work region mobile subscriptions as the virus prevented them from entering the country after the lunar holidays in China.

The migrant workers usually have one subscription for their work location and another subscription for their home region.

Jim Forsythe

Guo Wengui is not a good source of true information about China. Before he came to the USA he and the government did not see eye to eye. He left China instead of being jailed.

At the peak of his career, he was 73rd among the richest in China. After falling out with members of the Communist Party leadership, Guo was accused of corruption and other misdeeds and forced to flee China. He fled to the United States in late 2014 after learning he was going to be arrested after allegations against him including bribing, kidnapping, money laundering, fraud, and rape

Guo is a member of U.S. President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

Guo's site, ("GNews"), part of Guo Media. Guo and GNews have been linked closely with Steve Bannon, who previously worked for Breitbart.

The news site claimed that the Chinese government was going to admit that the coronavirus disease 2019 came from a nearby virus lab, or alternately admit that it was spread by the Chinese military.

Many officials with whom he was said to have ties have fallen under the dragnet of the anti-corruption campaign under Xi Jinping, including Ma Jian, the former deputy director of the Chinese National Security Bureau, and Zhang Yue, the former Political and Legal Affairs Secretary of Hebei. While generally supportive of General Secretary Xi Jinping, Guo has characterized parts of the corruption campaign as a political witch hunt.

A firm tied to the billionaire, real estate magnate Guo Wengui, allegedly hired a private intelligence firm to dig up dirt on Chinese nationals — including their bank records, porn habits, and any illegitimate children — then sued, saying the firm failed to deliver. In turn, the intelligence firm has claimed Guo’s side gave it a thumb drive loaded with sophisticated malware and that he sought information on people whose records were deemed sensitive by the U.S. government.

Carlos Ponce

Whatever, Jim. The number reported by the Chines government is still false whether it is tens of thousands or millions.

Jim Forsythe

Newsweek and others received false information from Radio Free Asia. Do you have any other reason to believe the numbers reported are false?

What is important is the 55,564 Deaths in the USA and not the number in China.

The claim about tens of thousands of hidden deaths appears to have been first reported by Radio Free Asia (RFA), a US government news agency created during the Cold War . RFA is operated by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), a federal agency of the US government under the supervision of the State Department. Describing its work as “vital to US national interests,” BBG’s primary broadcasting standard is to be “consistent with the broad foreign policy objectives of the United States.”

RFA’s “estimates” are based on morbid speculation regarding the cremation capacity of Wuhan’s funeral homes. RFA cites a story by the Chinese media outlet Caixin on funeral arrangements being made by Wuhan residents during the crisis. On March 26, Caixin reported that 5,000 cremation urns had arrived at a mortuary in Wuhan over a two-day period. This is treated as nefarious evidence of Chinese government deception solely because it exceeds the official death total in Wuhan.

RFA completely ignores the fact that residents have continued to die from other causes during the pandemic, as well as the backlog in funerals and cremations caused by the city’s several month-long lockdown. In 2019, approximately 56,000 cremations took place in Wuhan, according to the city’s official statistics.

That means that roughly 4600 residents died per month, a figure that was likely higher during the winter months and with Wuhan’s health care system overwhelmed by the outbreak. With Wuhan under lockdown since January 23, a substantial increase in the use of funeral homes and crematoriums should have been expected.

Carlos Ponce

US Intelligence reports the numbers are 50 times what is being reported.

Jim Forsythe

Why does the number of deaths in China make a difference for what we are dealing with now? We are about to go over 60,000 deaths which is important to the USA and our response. The number of deaths in China does matter to the families of the one that died.

They were relying on the urn info. From

Radio Free Asia described some people as saying on social media that Wuhan's funeral homes were "handing out 3,500 urns every day." Insider could not independently verify the outlet's reporting, but Radio Free Asia said that at that rate, about "42,000 urns would be given out" from March 23 to April 5, when a traditional grave-tending festival begins.

Carlos Ponce

Why does the number matter? This was in response to Bailey's post: "Also, this site has an excellent representation of data by country. It's easy to see who is doing the best job of containing the virus (China, Iceland, South Korea, Australia) and who is doing the worst job (guess)."

Carlos Ponce

More accurate numbers will be reported in time.

Jim Forsythe

April 25: China reported Saturday no new coronavirus deaths for the 10th straight day as the world's death toll from the pandemic surpassed 200,000.

China has reported 4,636 deaths from COVID-19 and 83,901 confirmed cases, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Of the confirmed cases, 78,138 have recovered from the virus.

Carlos Ponce

Jim is just repeating Chinese propaganda. Only a fool would believe it.

Jim Forsythe

John Hopkins University is giving out Chinese propaganda?

Carlos Ponce

John Hopkins is just repeating what the Chi-Coms tell the world. No verification. Just accept their tale.

Jim Forsythe

Who I do not believe is Radio Free Asia, Guo Wengui. These are the ones you put stock in and they have no bases for the number of deaths they think has happened in China. Since you are sure of an undercount in China, how many have died in China? What reliable sources do you have for this number?

Johns Hopkins experts in global public health, infectious disease, and emergency preparedness have been at the forefront of the international response to COVID-19. Johns Hopkin website is a resource to help advance the understanding of the virus, inform the public, and brief policymakers in order to guide response, improve care, and save lives.

Carlos Ponce

Okay, fine. Believe the Chinese Communist propaganda. Later when you learn the truth you'll never admit you've been duped anyway.

Jim Forsythe

Since you are sure of an undercount in China, how many have died in China? What reliable sources do you have for this number?

Carlos Ponce

"What reliable sources do you have for this number?" I will not reveal my sources but the number will be made known in due time. In the meantime, if you listen to the Liberal news realize they have a political agenda.

Jim Forsythe

You have already revealed your sources that are not dealing with facts. As we continue to have people die in the USA, how many people in other countries have died is not what we need to worry about.

Blaming others for our problems is not going to help reduce our deaths. Suing countries and USA states are not going to reduce our deaths!

We have 56,843 deaths and counting, and that is what we need to worry about.

Carlos Ponce

"You have already revealed your sources"

Not my REAL source.

Jim Forsythe

Why are you using sources that are not yours? Another one of your wait and see moments.!

Charlotte O'rourke

China’s numbers of covid 9 deaths may be false, but the US has issues identifying cause of death as well.

“One in 3 death certificates were wrong before coronavirus. It's about to get even worse.”

Bailey Jones

Feel free to ignore China's numbers. Iran's too, if that makes you feel better somehow.

Carlos Ponce

Not that I needed Bailey's permission to ignore clear fabrications.[rolleyes]

Carlos Ponce

Thank you, being a Trump operative means pro-family, pro America, pro Christian values. However defending the Chi Coms......

Dwight Burns

Bailey, is no China operative, however, you are a Trump operative.

Mike Box

Excellent column. Thank you.

Gary Miller

The fly in the ointment? There is no evidence recovery from Covid-19 results in any immunity from future exposure. No evidence heard immunity is real.

Bailey Jones

I heard that as well, about the herd. But that also calls into question the notion of treating patients with the plasma of those who have recovered.

Ted Gillis

I was grocery shopping at an Arlans this morning and I was wearing my cloth mask that my wife had acquired for me. The store has installed plexiglass at the registers and has posted signs around the store to remind poeple to practice a six feet social distance between each other.

A customer at the register behind me was coughing consistantly through out his transaction. One of those wet nasty smokers cough's. I wanted to turn around and tell him to go home, but chose not to. Once he left the checker turned off overhead light, grabbed a bottle of disinfectant and proceeded to wipe down the whole check out area where he had been.

Good for her!

Some people really care (her), some people could care less (him).

Stephen Murphy

My only question is when can we open up the country so that whatever economy we have left can be restarted? If we continue on the road we're on, people are going to continue losing their jobs and businesses will continue to close. That's going to lead to people losing their homes and ending up on the streets. Unemployment claims are at 26,000,000. Some reports claim by the middle of summer, the unemployment rate will be within range of the 25 percent peak recorded in 1933 during the Great Depression. On top of that, the food supply is on the verge of collapsing if you believe Tyson Foods. Whether we open up or stay at home, it looks like we're tied to the tracks and the train is coming.

Bailey Jones

The food supply is collapsing primarily not because of the shutdown but because of illness within the industry. And it's the same across all of the "essential" industries. The more businesses open up the more businesses will be forced to shut themselves down to protect their employees. As more employees get sick, the more supply chains are disrupted and the more downstream businesses suffer. There's no good way out of this. You can't have a healthy economy without a healthy workforce. And woe be unto any business that's rumored to be a "hot spot". I wonder how long before the personal injury lawyers get involved? At least, by the end of all of this, we'll have evolved the means to live, and work, and coexist, with a virus. That will come in handy next time.

Stephen Murphy

I haven't verified the source, but I read in the WaPo that Tyson Foods failed to even provide masks to all their workers. That is why they're shutting down plants. They have been know to not provide the best working conditions for their workers over the years.

Bailey Jones

I don't doubt it, but it's not just Tyson - Wayne Farms, Smithfield, JBS, etc., and I doubt that one meat packer treats its employees much better than another. And it's not just meat - one of our electronic equipment suppliers at JSC shut down for a 4 week quarantine because one of their employees died. I think most responsible employers would do the same.

Chuck DiFalco

The fewer businesses that open up soon, the fewer will ever open back up. No employees to worry about getting sick in those businesses that are permanently shuttered! Safety is important, but opening up (especially small) businesses, before half of them in the entire USA fail simultaneously, must be the top priority.

Carol Dean

Antibody testing in NYC is showing that WAY more people have had this virus in the past and were totally unaware of it.

I have a cough almost every single day...It's an allergy!

"For every test, there is an equal and opposite test"!

What I find interesting is that opinions seem to be politically split down the middle.

Focus on the highest number of people who seem to be affected and that appears to be the black population. Many older black people do not have someone to be their advocates, they are scared and sometimes easily talked into or consenting to something they know nothing about. Many times they are not even given a chance to respond. Guess what, a whole lot of people who are being immediately put onto ventilators are the ones who are dying before others! There are less invasive measures to try first. The "out cry" for ventilators was deafening. Now we have a nation with an excess of ventilators and make shift hospitals going to waste.

I LOVE The American Spirit, but come on ladies, you can only make and sell so many face masks before you have every other woman making them.

I, for one, am very tired of the "Blah, Blah, Blah..." I am going to go work in my yard and enjoy the healing powers (and preventive) of sunshine and fresh air.

Wayne D Holt


Carol Dean

Carlos, I love your analogy of the telephones. It makes as much sense as everything else does; maybe more!

Stephen Murphy

One thing, among many things, I'm learning is the potential adverse effect isolation is having on our immune system. By not being exposed to every day antigens (viruses and bacteria), our immune system is lessened in its ability to create antibodies to fight off these common, every day pathogens. What effect is this going to have on all of us once we get back to "normal"?

Also, I'm learning about the secondary effects of isolation. Doctors and first responders are seeing a rise in child molestation and abuse, spousal abuse, drug and alcohol abuse and so on. These are things that will have a lasting adverse effect on people for the rest of their lives.

Additionally, doctors are being "encouraged" to include COVID-19 as one of the causes of death on death records of people who have tested positive, even though the primary cause(s) of death might be other issues such as COPD from smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, etc.

Carlos Ponce

" By not being exposed to every day antigens (viruses and bacteria), our immune system is lessened in its ability to create antibodies to fight off these common, every day pathogens." Try probiotics.

Dwight Burns

Thanks to experts like Dr. Rudd, we, as a Country, will survive this pandemic despite the ineptness coming from the WH.

Carlos Ponce

"ineptness coming from the WH" Since that comes from the "experts" like Dr. Anthony Fauci are you saying the good doctor is inept?

Doug Sivyer

This thought is idiocy. It's not even proven that one has immunity after recovering from the virus.

Carlos Ponce

There are different strains, Doug.

Wayne D Holt

Every time you take a virus vaccine, you are allowing the DNA of that strain of virus to be injected into your bloodstream. Your "hope" is that the weakened state of the virus is enough to provoke an immune response that generates antibodies to that strain. The "fact" is if you know folks who have developed flu symptoms after taking a flu shot--I personally know a lot more of them than of Covid-19 victims, which is presently 0) then you will be taking the chance that you will develop THIS virus in the same way if a vaccine is developed.

There is a reason the government has already guaranteed immunity from legal liability to vaccine manufacturers should this grand experiment in public health join the grand experiment in economic strangulation they've already foisted on America.

Feel free to jump on the #IWantTheShot bandwagon as soon as it rolls into town. You will be doing your part to provide the early epidemiological data that may show we've just infected even more people than community spread did.

I am astonished that people who feel we need to be decked out like we're entering a surgical arena just to stroll down the street would even consider allowing someone to inject viral remains of whatever this thing is into their bodies.

The white lab coat of your medical practitioner isn't going to protect you, however. That's why the CDC estimates 1,700,000 healthcare acquired (Iatrogenic ) infections and 99,000 associated deaths EACH YEAR.

Did you catch that? If you are the victim of a healthcare acquired infection, the mortality rate you face is nearly 6 percent. That would make it at minimum 50% deadlier than Covid-19 and more likely 200%-300% more certain to end in your untimely demise.

Not familiar with those numbers? It's not surprising as it doesn't fit the narrative that Covid-19 is the biological equivalent of plutonium dusted on your morning toast.

Inject the DNA of this thing into my bloodstream willingly? I'll gladly give up my place in line to those who wish to gamble with their life.

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