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Public health experts call out Shirkey’s comments on herd immunity 

By: - October 12, 2020 12:59 pm

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, Sept. 19, 2019 | Nick Manes

A group of national public health experts on Monday penned an open letter to state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) in which they challenged his comments on COVID-19 and herd immunity. 

On Sunday, MLive published comments from Shirkey on coronavirus.

“Nobody should be misled here or of the opinion that you can keep it from spreading — it’s going to spread, so we just do the best we can,” said Shirkey, who has been a vocal critic of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s COVID-19-related directives. “I’m also a big believer that there’s an element of herd immunity that needs to take place.”

Herd immunity, as defined by the Mayo Clinic, occurs when a large portion of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of that disease from person to person unlikely. As a result, the whole community becomes protected, not only those who are immune.

In a letter circulated by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office Monday, doctors questioned the forethought and practicality of Shirkey’s statement. 

“If ‘herd immunity’ were to begin after about 80% of the state’s population has been infected, as some believe, then 6.5 million more Michiganders would still need to contract COVID-19,” they write.

Almost 135,000 people in Michigan have tested positive for coronavirus and almost 6,900 have died.

“At the current mortality rate, this would mean more than 30,000 additional deaths — more than four times the number of deaths to date,” the letter reads. “A much better alternative would be to control the spread of the coronavirus through policies based on evidence, followed by broad use of a safe and effective vaccine when available. We ask that you clarify your remarks about herd immunity to avoid leaving the impression that a leader of your stature is supporting greater spread of coronavirus as public policy.” 

The group also requested that the Senate convene a hearing with recognized experts in public health and medicine. They said a hearing would give experts the opportunity to share evidence, as well as provide senators “the chance to ask questions about the virus, its spread, and what can be done to save more lives.” 

Shirkey also has disputed the overwhelming medical consensus that masks are a critical tool to stopping the spread of COVID-19 and he does not back a state mandate. 

 The following officials signed the letter: 

  • Joshua M. Sharfstein, professor, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health  
  • Thomas M. File, Jr., president, Infectious Diseases Society of America  
  • Tom Frieden, M.D., former director, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  
  • Ashish K. Jha, dean, Brown University School of Public Health  
  • Carlos Del Rio, distinguished professor, Department of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases, Emory University School of Medicine 

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman writes about Southeast Michigan, history and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on Black life in Detroit.