Covid-19 is far more dangerous than flu
Sir, – The HSE has rejected the claims of Dr Martin Feeley (clinical director of the Dublin Midlands Hospital Group) that Covid-19 is less serious than the annual flu and that people at low risk of the virus should be allowed to be exposed to it, which would enable the country to develop herd immunity (“HSE rejects senior doctor’s comments Covid-19 is ‘less severe’ than annual flu”, News, September 12th).
We fully support the HSE’s rejection of Dr Feeley’s opinions.
When it comes to Covid-19, we must where possible be led by data. On average, seasonal flu strains kill about 0.1 per cent of people who become infected. Current data indicates that Covid-19 is substantially more dangerous than flu. Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the US, has given a death rate 10 times that of seasonal flu.
Regarding herd immunity, no country has explicitly advocated this approach because of the dangers it will entail. Recent seroprevalence studies indicate that 1.7 per cent of the Irish population has been infected with Sars-CoV-2 and there have been 1,784 deaths and many survivors with severe long-term effects of Covid-19. It has been estimated that at least 70 per cent of the population need to be infected (or immunised with a highly effective vaccine) to reach the critical threshold for herd immunity. Therefore, herd immunity through infection will come at price of substantially more morbidity and mortality from Covid-19 in the Irish population.
It would also be virtually impossible to protect vulnerable people, since a large proportion, as many as one in three, of the Irish population are in a high-risk group. Apart from older people, this includes those with heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Widespread infection would also likely give rise to people with debilitating persistent symptoms.
Since he is advocating for herd immunity, can Dr Feeley give an upper limit of the likely number of deaths that would be acceptable if a herd immunity approach were to be taken?
We are in a most important phase of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is essential that commentators base their statements on current science as best they can. Otherwise they are in danger of misleading the general public or providing support for those who support disinformation for political ends. – Yours, etc,
LUKE O’NEILL, PhD
TOMÁS RYAN, PhD
Trinity College Dublin,