National Coronavirus Antibody Study Suggests Herd Immunity ‘Remains Out of Reach’ in the U.S.

Results of a nationwide COVID-19 antibody study indicate herd immunity “remains out of reach” in the U.S., with less than 10 percent of participants testing positive for proteins that could potentially offer protection from repeat infections.



Health care workers obtain blood samples while conducting rapid COVID-19 antibody tests in San Dimas, California, on July 26. Results of a new study suggest less than 10 percent of the U.S. population had COVID-19 antibodies in July.


© ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images
Health care workers obtain blood samples while conducting rapid COVID-19 antibody tests in San Dimas, California, on July 26. Results of a new study suggest less than 10 percent of the U.S. population had COVID-19 antibodies in July.

The study— conducted by Stanford University researchers in July and published by peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet on Friday— evaluated the presence of COVID-19 antibodies in blood samples from 28,500 dialysis patients across 46 states. It is one of the largest studies of its kind conducted to date in the U.S.

Based on the data collected, researchers estimate roughly 9.3 percent of the country’s population had COVID-19 antibodies in July. Cross referencing its data with figures published by Johns Hopkins University, the study suggested just 9.2 percent of individuals with antibodies were formally diagnosed with the respiratory illness.

As of Sunday morning, Johns Hopkins University’s ongoing COVID-19 tracker tallied more than 7 million positive cases reported in the U.S. since the pandemic began in March. Of those confirmed diagnoses, more than 204,500 people have died from the disease.

The antibody study’s recent publication comes as scientists and drug companies across the world race to develop a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine. Meanwhile, conversations about “herd immunity”—a scenario in which a population’s infection rates are high enough to offer adequate immunity for a certain period of time—are becoming increasingly prevalent. Sweden, where officials applied an individualistic approach to virus mitigation, is cited as an example of the controversial idea. Whether or not the Nordic country achieved “herd immunity” during the pandemic is debated.

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Some U.S. officials have floated the concept of herd immunity as a possible strategy to manage the national outbreak. Scott Atlas, a White House COVID-19 adviser, suggested the U.S. implement Sweden’s approach in August. Republican Senator Rand Paul advocated for the approach again during a recent Senate hearing, where he contradicted opinions shared by top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci. Studies propose at least 40 percent of the U.S. population would need to contract COVID-19 in order for the country to accomplish herd immunity to any degree.

Dr. Julie Parsonnet, a medical professor at Stanford who co-authored the new antibody study, said findings show the U.S. was still far from achieving herd immunity in July.

“This research clearly confirms that despite high rates of COVID-19 in the United States, the number of people with antibodies is still low and we haven’t come close to achieving herd immunity,” Parsonnet said in a statement.

Newsweek reached out to Parsonnet and Shuchi Anand, director of the Center for Tubulointerstitial Kidney Disease at Stanford and the study’s lead author, for additional comments, but did not receive replies in time for publication.

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