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UTSA professor says introducing herd immunity to combat COVID-19 would be ‘morally irresponsible’

Dr. Juan Gutierrez created COVID-19 case models for San Antonio, says data indicates novel coronavirus is deadlier than flu

SAN ANTONIO – The coronavirus pandemic has changed our way of life and while we would like to return to some semblance of normalcy, that will take time.

Experts say a potential vaccine for COVID-19 is still months away.

“This is a process that can not be accelerated,” said Dr. Juan Gutierrez.

Gutierrez is the chair of mathematics at UTSA. He created one of the COVID-19 models being used in San Antonio and Bexar County.

He has studied and built multi-scale models for other infectious diseases in the past.

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Gutierrez said a vaccine needs to go through a series of approval and developmental stages, and tests before it can be introduced to a population.

“(It is) to guarantee that the risk is minimal and that we gain a benefit larger than the dangers that we’re introducing with potentially with a vaccine,” said Gutierrez. “There are at least 30 vaccine initiatives around the world. Our hope is that some of those will find an accelerated path to bring a vaccine to market."

With no vaccine in the near future, restrictions remain in place in many states. Many proponents for the removal of those restrictions believe herd immunity might be the answer.

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Herd immunity occurs when most of the population becomes immune to an infectious disease.

This provides indirect protection to those who are not immune to the disease and essentially stops the virus from spreading.

Gutierrez said based on his research and the research of others, herd immunity is not an option for the novel coronavirus.

“The evidence that exposure to COVID-19 confers lasting immunity is just not there,” said Gutierrez. “Nobody can in this moment claim with full certainty that whoever has been exposed to COVID-19 is now immune to the disease.”

Medical experts also do not have a full understanding yet of the long term effects of the virus.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University recently issued a release that stated herd immunity would “not be achieved at a population level in 2020, barring a public health catastrophe.”

Gutierrez said there is a misconception that COVID-19 is just the flu, but that is not the case based on medical research.

Data from Johns Hopkins and the World Health Organization show the current death rate for COVID-19 is much higher than the flu.

“Allowing this disease to progress in communities just to build herd immunity is morally irresponsible,” said Gutierrez. “We would hurt our communities by the number of people who could get sick, who could die and the health system will suffer.”

With more testing being done even for people showing no symptoms, we could get some answers soon.

For now, Gutierrez said social distancing and proper sanitation measures are the best bet to limit the spread of COVID-19.


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