Facebook flags WSJ op-ed on ‘herd immunity’ by Johns Hopkins professor as ‘fake news’

The Wall Street Journal has claimed that Facebook fact-checkers relied on 'opinion and not facts' after an op-d written by Johns Hopkins professor Dr Marty Makary (pictured) was flagged last week.

The Wall Street Journal has claimed that Facebook fact-checkers relied on 'opinion and not facts' after an op-d written by Johns Hopkins professor Dr Marty Makary (pictured) was flagged last week.

The Wall Street Journal has claimed that Facebook fact-checkers relied on ‘opinion and not facts’ after an op-d written by Johns Hopkins professor Dr Marty Makary (pictured) was flagged last week.

The Wall Street Journal has revealed that Facebook fact-checkers relied on ‘opinion and not facts’ when they flagged an op-ed that was written by a Johns Hopkins professor discussing his projections on the coronavirus.

Dr Marty Makary in February made a bold claim: ‘We’ll have herd immunity by April’.

Makary wrote in a Wall Street Journal guest column that he estimates that the US will have herd immunity by April, driven by the high, but underestimated, number of people who have been infected already – and by vaccination. 

‘Some medical experts privately agreed with my prediction that there may be very little Covid-19 by April but suggested that I not to talk publicly about herd immunity because people might become complacent and fail to take precautions or might decline the vaccine,’ said  Makary in his opinion piece, published on February 19. ‘But scientists shouldn’t try to manipulate the public by hiding the truth,’ Makary said. 
According to another article published by the Journal’s editorial board on March 5, Facebook has since added a ‘missing context’ label to Makary’s op-ed. 
‘Independent fact-checkers say this information could mislead people,’ the label against Makary’s story reads.  

The board wrote: ‘According to Facebook, “Once we have a rating from a fact-checking partner, we take action by ensuring that fewer people see that misinformation.”‘  

In addition, the Facebook label ‘links to Health Feedback, a member of a World Health Organization-led vaccine project and an affiliate of the nonprofit Science Feedback that verifies scientific claims in the media’. 

The board noted that the ‘fact-check’ from Health Feedback says: ‘Misleading Wall Street Journal opinion piece makes the unsubstantiated claim that the U.S. will have herd immunity by April 2021. 

‘Three scientists analysed the article and estimate its overall scientific credibility to be very low.’

However, the Journal’s editorial board called it a ‘counter-opinion masquerading as fact checking’. 

According to the Journal, ‘Makary didn’t present his opinion as a factual claim’ and instead ‘argued, based on studies and other evidence, that Americans would have enough immunity from vaccination and natural infection by early spring to sharply reduce the virus spread’.

The Journal’s board said Makary simply made a ‘projection’ that was only flagged by the ‘progressive health clerisy’ who ‘worry it could lead to fewer virus restrictions’.

The board said that Facebook’s fact-checkers ‘cherry-pick’ studies ‘to support their own opinions, which they present as fact’.

At the time, Makary’s article noted that new daily infections declined 77 per cent in the past six weeks, equating this decrease to a ‘miracle pill.’ 

Despite the declines in new cases top health officials including Dr Anthony Fauci and CDC director Dr Rochelle Walensky have warned that the progress is tenuous. 

America is still seeing more new infections a day than it did at the height of the summer peak, Walensky said at the time – and even the current downward trajectory is threatened by the spread of new variants like the UK’s, which has already caused more than 1,600 infections in 43 states.  

But Makary’s rosy prediction largely dismissed the presence of variants, noting that cases are declining in the UK, where the B117 variant quickly became dominant, triggering massive case surges and lockdowns there. 

He also claimed that herd immunity in the Brazilian city of Manaus, where 76 per cent of people had already been infected resulted in a ‘slowing of the infection’.

More than 28.9 million cases of COVID have been reported in the US since last year

More than 28.9 million cases of COVID have been reported in the US since last year

More than 28.9 million cases of COVID have been reported in the US since last year 

But the Lancet report that he drew those statistics from documented the ‘resurgence of COVID-19 despite high’ proportions of the population who were previously infected.

Inevitably, the US and every other nation comes a little closer to herd immunity with every day and every additional case of COVID-19, and that does reduce the number of people vulnerable to infection – but the nation is likely still a long way off from reaching vaccination or prior infection for 70 per cent of the population. 

Vanderbilt University infectious diseases professor Dr William Shaffner said that while herd immunity likely is building in the US, contributing to the lower case numbers, it’s too soon to predict that the nation will reach that point by April. 

‘His thesis – I would raise it as a question, he raises it as a conclusion,’ said Shaffner. 

‘Not only does he draw a conclusion…he makes a prediction. 

‘I sure hope he’s correct, but I can’t say that. I’d I’d prefer to under-promise and over- deliver; namely keep talking about the end of summer or early fall’ bringing a return to normalcy in the US.  

That’s been the consistent prediction of public health officials like Fauci since vaccines were authorized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in December.  

At the time of Makary’s article, just 12.6 per cent of the population had one or more doses of the coronavirus vaccine, and about 1.6 million doses were being given a day. 

At that rate, Bloomberg’s vaccination calculator estimated that 70 per cent of the US won’t be inoculated until about New Year’s Day, 2022 with some of that gap being made up by the number of Americans who acquire immunity by surviving COVID-19.  

With a population of 331 million, that estimate would suggest that a quarter of the US population has been infected and immune to COVD-19 (although it’s still not clear how long that protection will last, most studies suggest it will provide three to eight months of immunity, at least). 

Makary argued that the number of Americans who have already had coronavirus and are now immune or, at least, less at-risk of the infection, is discounted in other public health experts’ predictions of when the US could reach herd immunity. 

He also credits this for the current and precipitous decline in new infections. 

‘Why is the number of cases plummeting much faster than experts predicted?’ he asks.

‘In large part because natural immunity from prior infection is far more common than can be measured by testing. 

‘Testing has been capturing only from 10 percent to 25 percent of infections, depending on when during the pandemic someone got the virus. 

‘Applying a time-weighted case capture average of One in 6.5 to the cumulative 28 million confirmed cases would mean about 55 percent of Americans have natural immunity.’ 

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