Story at a glance

  • Fauci said allowing the virus to sweep through the country unchecked to achieve herd immunity would result in a “totally unacceptable” number of deaths.
  • “If everyone contracted it, even with the relatively high percentage of people without symptoms...a lot of people are going to die,” Fauci said.
  • Herd immunity happens when a large portion of the population becomes immune to a virus. This can happen either because people became vaccinated or have already been infected and build antibodies to ward off new infections.

The nation’s top infectious diseases expert warned that the U.S. would see a staggering death toll from the coronavirus if the country allowed infections to spread across the nation unchecked in an effort to achieve so-called herd immunity. 

“If everyone contracted it, even with the relatively high percentage of people without symptoms...a lot of people are going to die,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told actor Matthew McConaughey during a live discussion on Instagram Thursday. 


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“If you look at the United States of America with our epidemic of obesity as it were, with the number of people with hypertension, with the number of people with diabetes, if everyone got infected, the death toll would be enormous and totally unacceptable,” the White House coronavirus adviser said. 

Herd immunity happens when a large portion of the population becomes immune to a virus. This can happen either because people became vaccinated or have already been infected and build antibodies to ward off new infections. Herd immunity makes it harder for a virus to spread as a majority of people have some protection. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) late last month warned public officials against trying to achieve herd immunity, saying the strategy would overwhelm hospitals and cause many deaths. 

While researchers believe 60 to 80 percent of the population needs to be vaccinated or have antibodies to achieve herd immunity, Johns Hopkins University data shows less than 2 percent of the population has been infected. 

“We’re nowhere near close to [herd immunity], which means this virus has a long way to burn in our communities before we ever reach that,” Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies program, said

Fauci’s comments come as the U.S. continues to lead the world in the number of coronavirus cases and deaths, recording nearly 5.3 million infections and more than 167,000 deaths. 

With the country’s current mitigation efforts in place, health experts have warned that the U.S. could have as many as 300,000 coronavirus deaths by the end of this year.

Published on Aug 14, 2020