In a single week, the United States broke its coronavirus case record and the White House claimed to “end” COVID-19. Now, rumors are swirling that President Donald Trump’s administration is adopting a herd immunity strategy.
According to the Daily Beast, President Trump’s COVID-19 advisors are pushing for the controversial strategy. The White House has denied the report, but its policy suggestions—along with the claim of defeating the virus—suggest otherwise.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, responded to news of a herd immunity strategy on the JAMA Networks’ Coronavirus video update. He vehemently insisted herd immunity is a dangerous strategy, noting that it would expose too a high percentage of vulnerable people to be seriously considered.
“You know how many deaths you’re gonna have before you get there? That’s an unacceptable pathway,” he said. “We get to herd immunity from a vaccine, that’s how you get to herd immunity. Not by letting everybody get infected.”
The term herd immunity describes achieving mass immunity through the development of a vaccine to combat a virus. At the onset of the coronavirus, herd immunity entered the news cycle as a mass infection solution after countries like the United Kingdom began floating the idea.
Reports say Trump and his advisors have been influenced by a recent open letter called the Great Barrington Declaration. Authored by a conservative free-market think tank located in the Massachusetts town of Great Barrington, the letter advocates for herd immunity over lockdowns as the best measure to combat the coronavirus.
The Daily Beast report claims Dr. Scott Atlas, a favored advisor by the president who does not have expertise in infectious disease or epidemiology, has been pushing the letter on the president to advocate for a herd immunity strategy. Three unnamed officials working on the White House coronavirus task force say Trump and his advisors were using the report as basis for their coronavirus policy.
Atlas and Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Matthews denied the claims. Others have said it’s far too hazardous to be considered.
“It’s a really dangerous idea. And it’s a potentially deadly mistake,” Tom Frieden, former director for the Centers for Disease Control under the Obama administration, said. “They know that term [herd immunity] is toxic, but that’s exactly what they’re recommending. I mean, Scott Atlas said it’s a positive thing. It’s not a positive thing. Every infection is a step backward.”
A high percentage of adults could be put at risk from a herd immunity strategy. Around four in ten adults (37.6%) over 18 have a higher risk of becoming seriously ill due to COVID-19 in the U.S., according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. This amounts to 92.6 million people.
“How are you going to protect the people in society who have diabetes, obesity, hypertension, chronic lung disease,” Fauci said. “For goodness sake, take a look at the data.”