U.S. Will Reach Herd Immunity Faster than Anthony Fauci Says: Johns Hopkins Doctor Marty Makary

A prominent doctor from Johns Hopkins University has blasted Dr. Anthony Fauci for suggesting that the U.S. may remain vulnerable to a surging COVID-19 pandemic beyond this spring.

Dr. Marty Makary, a pancreatic surgeon, made the remarks during a Tuesday night interview with Larry Kudlow, an economic adviser to former President Donald Trump, on Fox Business Channel. Makary predicted that the pandemic would be largely over in the U.S. by summer. He insisted that Fauci was ignoring the natural immunity of those who recover from the virus while suggesting that up to 80 percent of the U.S. population may need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity, the point at which the entire population would be largely protected against contracting the virus.

"Look, I like Dr. Fauci, but when he says we need to vaccinate 75 to 80 percent in order to reach herd immunity and completely ignores natural immunity from prior infection, it's no longer this thing where you can just say 'oh, we don't how many people have natural immunity or we don't know if it works,'" Makary said. "Natural immunity is real and it works. And let's recognize it's going to help us get to herd immunity faster."

"[By] April or May, we're going to start seeing gradual slowing," Makary added after Kudlow asked whether the country could see herd immunity by spring. "And it's going to mostly be young people who are going to linger into May and June with cases."

Marty Makary Anthony Fauci COVID-19 Herd Immunity
Dr. Anthony Fauci gestures while speaking at COVID-19 vaccination event in Washington, D.C. on March 16, 2021. Alex Wong/Getty

In a February Wall Street Journal opinion article, Makary predicted that the U.S. would achieve herd immunity by April. With Johns Hopkins recording over 60,000 new cases of COVID-19 on the last day of March alone, that prediction seems nearly certain to fall short. Makary said that unspecified "medical experts privately agreed with my prediction" but had asked him to remain silent about herd immunity "because people might become complacent and fail to take precautions or might decline the vaccine."

Makary did not mention his April prediction in a follow-up article published last week, focusing instead on criticizing Fauci for allegedly discounting natural immunity while failing to predict that the U.S. would quickly achieve herd immunity. He suggested that Fauci and others do not factor natural immunity into their predictions because they wrongly believe that those who recover from COVID-19 may not have strong protection against reinfection.

Last December, Fauci predicted that herd immunity could be achieved by this fall if 75 to 80 percent of the population were vaccinated, with the possibility of reaching "some degree of normality" by the end of the year. More recently, he has been reluctant to provide a timeline.

Fauci has noted that virus variants in particular could make predictions unreliable. Those who have previously recovered from infections may not have natural immunity to certain mutations of COVID-19. Some variants have also shown resistance to vaccines, although none have yet shown total resistance and experts generally believe that vaccinations provide stronger protection than natural immunity.

"The answer is, actually, we don't know," Fauci told The Atlantic earlier this month while speaking about being asked to make predictions. "It's dangerous to guess ... We may need to be wearing masks in 2022 if the variants come in and they sort of thwart our vaccination efforts to get everything under control."

Regardless of the timeline and provided that more resistant variants do not quickly emerge, the country does appear to be moving closer to herd immunity as vaccinations increase. Over 97.5 million people had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine as of Wednesday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vaccine doses had been given to 29.4 percent of the U.S. population, with 16.4 percent of the population fully vaccinated.

Newsweek reached out to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, where Fauci serves as director, for comment.