Epidemiologist: Our Response is Putting Elderly At Risk
On this episode of HealthMade Radio, Dr. Michael Karlfeldt discusses the nationwide response to the COVID-19 virus with Dr. Knut M. Wittkowski, who has been modeling epidemics for 35 years. He is the former chief biostatistician and epidemiologist at Rockefeller University Hospital. Dr. Wittkowski, believes that our response to the virus is not only wrong but will increase the length of the outbreak and put the elderly and susceptible at a greater risk.
“With all respiratory diseases, the only thing that stops the disease is <natural> herd immunity,” the epidemiologist said. “About 80% of the people need to have had contact with the virus, and the majority of them won’t even have recognized that they were infected, or they had very, very mild symptoms, especially if they are children.”
This term is widely used but not widely understood. Herd Immunity, a form of indirect protection from infectious disease that occurs when a large percentage of a population has become immune to an infection, through previous infections, thereby providing a measure of protection for individuals who are not immune.
“As with every respiratory disease, we should protect the elderly and fragile because when they get pneumonia, they have a high risk of dying of pneumonia. So that is one of the key issues that we should keep in mind. On the other hand, children do very well with these diseases. They’re evolutionarily designed to be exposed to all sorts of viruses during their lifetime, and so they should keep going to school and infecting each other. Then, that contributes to herd immunity, which means after about four weeks at the most, the elderly people (who had been could start joining their family because then the virus would have been extinguished.”
OUR CURRENT REACTION TO THIS VIRUS WAS BASED ON GUESSWORK AND IT IS WRONG
Epidemiologists, public health professionals who investigate patterns and causes of disease and injury in humans, were left out of the discussion when models were developed for the outbreak of this flu, which resulted in the knee-jerk reaction to shut down schools and implement ‘anti-social’ distancing.
“It was all based on guesswork without a clear understanding of the epidemic spread.” Dr. Widtokowski, an epidemiologist with 35 years, “We did not take appropriate action with the knowledge we had.”
For example, China and South Korea reached a max peak of infections before implementing ‘social distancing,’ when the number of cases was already at a decline. Their epidemic peaked was four weeks; in contrast, here in the United States, it is taking a lot more time. By not allowing the virus to run its course, especially among the children who are at little to no risk of complications, our country is unable to develop herd immunity increasing the risk to those most susceptible.
HUMAN AND VIRUSES MUST CO-EXIST
The idea that we can and should eradicate viruses to keep us safe is counterproductive and quite impossible.
Dr. Widtkowski explains it this way,
“The best course of action is to rely on what nature has come up with the last 100,000 years. The virus enters the human population and stays there for a week or two. Its infection in the population rises -reaches a peak- then the number of infections declines, and in the end, the virus is eradicated. Why? Because there are many more people in the population that are immune than those that are susceptible. So anybody that brings the virus into the population would not bring any further infection. Its the initial course of any disease. Humans don’t need to do much about it.”
OUR RESPONSE IS BASED ON UNREASONABLE FEAR
Dr. Michael Karlfeldt explains the current reaction of individuals in the United States. “It is scary. This invisible virus can’t be seen, and it’s everywhere. Some people can be asymptomatic and spread it.”
“What you are describing – we go through this every year during the flu season. The flu enters the population, starts spreading, then declines. We never see it. (It is always invisible.) We never know who will be infected. Why is this year different? I don’t know. Maybe it is because the internet a media, and rumors are spreading faster than any virus is spread. The President and Mayor of New York from one day to the next went from a reasonable to the unreasonable response. “
If we look at the data, what we are seeing is very typical for our annual flu virus. Every year, during the flu season, there are approximately 35,000 deaths. We have ten thousand who died from this COVID-19 flu, and even this should double it would still be of the lower end of what is regular flu seasons.
HFI: Notice the RED LINE below from a CDC generated-graph reflecting FLU Hospitalizations. There was more last year and our hospitals didn’t need tents or ships to service the individuals!
IDAHO: Here’s some statistics from April 4 via the CDC.
It shows 299 flu deaths in ID. The Health Department is reporting 27 CV deaths. (Combined these deaths are similar/less than previous years)
WHY ARE WE PANICKING? We should be protecting the vulnerable and allowing the healthy to live and support those who NEED to shelter in place. We have this all backward! https://coronavirus.idaho.gov/ https://gis.cdc.gov/grasp/fluview/mortality.html #stayhome
See Idaho Statistics from the CDC : https://gis.cdc.gov/grasp/fluview/fluportaldashboard.html
Unfortunately, at the end of March, the CDC changed reporting for deaths from COVID-19. Now anyone with the virus will be considered a death FROM the virus even if it did not contribute to death.
61 Year Old Man Dies from Head Injury but that the virus was listed as a contributing factor to his death.
DOES NOVEL MEAN MORE DANGEROUS?
No, ‘novel’ means that a particular virus hasn’t been seen before. It doesn’t mean its more dangerous or kills more people. Every influenza virus that hasn’t been around for 15 years would also be considered a ‘novel’ virus; otherwise, people would already have herd immunity, and the infections wouldn’t spread.
FLATTENING THE CURVE INCREASES THE RISK
There are several sources of data available worldwide, and if you analyze the data, it reveals that there is no major difference between this epidemic and other flu epidemics. The only major difference is everywhere we see social distancing was implemented; it takes more time for the virus to reach the level of herd immunity; therefore, it stays in the population longer. This allows more time for exposure for the elderly and susceptible people at risk.
By flatting the curve, we are INCREASING the risk for the elderly and the number of deaths overall. It is better to let nature take the course.
CLOSING SCHOOLS THE WRONG APPROACH
“If there had been no intervention, the epidemic would have been over, like every other respiratory disease epidemic,” Wittkowski said. The virus should have been allowed to spread among healthy children and young people who generally don’t even experience symptoms. The entire population could have achieved herd immunity in “two weeks.” He said only elderly, and at-risk individuals should have been isolated until herd immunity was reached.
What we have done has only prolonged this epidemic and prevent us from getting herd immunity putting the susceptible at more risk for a more extended period of time. We have prevented the children from becoming infected and immune, allowing the virus to spread among other parts of the population – which is the elderly at risk of becoming infected, seriously ill, and then die.
If schools had remained open, and the virus would have been allowed to take it’s course naturally. Children would develop immunity, creating herd immunity. As the virus is actively circulating, the emphasis should have been protecting the medically frail and those over age 60, and in particular, those over 70 and 80, from exposure.
IT’S NOT THE VIRUS THAT IS DANGEROUS ITS OUR IMMUNE RESPONSE
We are not suffering from the virus being in our bodies. The danger comes with the immune response of killing all the cells that are infected, resulting in inflammation. The inflammatory response can create respiratory problems, bacteria on the inflamed skin, etc. It is rarely the virus itself. The danger of relying on a vaccine is the potential for a vaccine that makes the immune response even more ridge. A more robust response could then cause the symptoms of the disease to get worse.
THE CORRECT RESPONSE
“Closing the schools probably one of the most destructive actions the government has done.”
The correct response will be to allow the virus to run its course, especially in our young people. Allow the children to go back to school.
Continuing this nationwide school shutdown, this is the worst thing you can do, not only for the epidemic of the virus but also for the children. That will strengthen their immune system, build immunity, transfer immunity to their parents, and start to establish herd immunity and protect the elderly from this virus.
A correct course of action would be to “preferentially protecting” the high risk and highly susceptible population. This course of action is something people have been doing for many years.
Listen to the full episode to hear Dr. Karlfeldt and Dr. Wittkowski answer these questions:
- What about the Italian death toll, does America compare?
- How does epidemic figures compare from the non-response by Sweden, and the neighboring countries Norway and Finland?
- Does our current knowledge in the US give us an advantage in dealing with the outbreak?
- A vaccine – an appropriate solution?
- What about viral mutations?
Dr. Wittkowski received his Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Stuttgart and his ScD (Habilitation) in Medical Biometry from the Eberhard-Karls-University Tuüingen, both Germany.
He worked for 15 years with Klaus Dietz, a leading epidemiologist who coined the term “reproduction number” on the Epidemiology of HIV before heading for 20 years, the Department of Biostatistics, Epidemiology, and Research Design at The Rockefeller University, New York.
Dr. Wittkowski is currently the CEO of ASDERA LLC, a company discovering novel treatments for complex diseases from data of genome-wide association studies.