Anti-vaxxers have a dangerous theory called "natural immunity." Now it's going mainstream. - 2020-05-12
On April 26, two California physicians posted a video on YouTube about what they said was a potentially deadly side effect of social distancing: Our immune systems will get weaker because of lack of exposure to germs. They weren't the only ones to make this argument. In a May 4 video, a controversial and outspoken Dr. Shiva Ayyadurai—an engineer who claims to have invented email—also embraces this idea. In a May 3 YouTube video, he announced, "Viruses do not harm or kill us." Instead, he argues, "Your body is an amazing being—it knows how to take care of itself, and that's how we get immune health. But these politicians, the CDC and the NIH—they're not talking about any of this. Shame on them, it's criminal." An article from the Minnesota-based conservative think tank the Charlemagne Institute titled "COVID-19 Lockdowns May Destroy Our Immune Systems" is currently making the rounds, too.
"In order for our immune systems to be harmed by social distancing, we would have to live in sterile settings for a long time in which no bacteria or germs could affect us."
It's not hard to see why this content took off. The idea—or the basic contours of it, at least—has some elements of truth. Immunologists have shown that, in general, we strengthen our immune systems by exposing them to pathogens. In the last few decades, researchers have amassed evidence to suggest that some chronic conditions that are common in the developed world but rare in poorer countries—including asthma, allergies, and autoimmune illnesses like Crohn's disease—could be the result of an environment that doesn't have enough germs, causing the immune system to go haywire.