strategy

The White House is embracing a ‘herd immunity’ strategy that would allow COVID-19 to spread freely and is widely disputed by scientists



Steven Mnuchin wearing a suit and tie: President Donald Trump at a briefing with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and the coronavirus advisor Scott Atlas in August. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images


© BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images
President Donald Trump at a briefing with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and the coronavirus advisor Scott Atlas in August. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

  • White House officials say the administration is warming to a controversial herd-immunity strategy advocated in a document called the Great Barrington Declaration. 
  • Under the strategy, those not particularly vulnerable to serious infections are allowed to live normally while the vulnerable are shielded.
  • The document is widely criticized by scientists and emphatically rejected by the World Health Organization, the UK government, and Dr. Anthony Fauci.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The White House is embracing a controversial “herd immunity” strategy in response to the coronavirus, according to a briefing given by anonymous senior officials.

The strategy would allow the virus to spread freely with the belief that most of the population would develop a degree of immunity. It advocates shielding the more vulnerable to limit loss of life.

Two administration officials, who were not authorized to give their names, gave the briefing to media organizations including Business Insider.

They cited a controversial document, the Great Barrington Declaration, which was drawn up last week by Sunetra Gupta of Oxford University, Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford University, and Martin Kulldorff of Harvard University.

It has been signed by scientists and health experts across the world, but it has also drawn widespread criticism from public-health officials.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious-disease expert on the White House coronavirus task force, takes an opposite view of the virus, urging drastic action to limit its spread.

The director-general of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said Tuesday that a herd-immunity approach was “scientifically and ethically problematic.”

The UK’s health secretary, Matt Hancock, attacked the Great Barrington Declaration by name in Parliament on Tuesday

WHO chief: Herd immunity strategy ‘unethical’ for tackling pandemic

  • The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that trying to reach herd immunity by allowing COVID-19 to spread is “scientifically and ethically problematic.”
  • “Allowing a dangerous virus that we don’t fully understand to run free is simply unethical,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
  • His comments, at a press conference on Monday, came days before it emerged the White House was warming to a herd immunity strategy.
  • The WHO estimates that less than 10% of the global population has been exposed to the virus, meaning that the vast majority of people are at risk.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that allowing COVID-19 to spread freely in the hope of achieving herd immunity is “simply unethical.”

WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that herd immunity — where a large portion of a community becomes immune to a virus, limiting its spread — must come through a vaccination, and cannot be achieved by allowing people to become infected. 

His comments, made at a press briefing on Monday, came days before senior US officials said the White House was warming to the herd immunity strategy.

Tedros said that “herd immunity is achieved by protecting people from a virus, not by exposing them to it.”

“Never in the history of public health has herd immunity been used as a strategy for responding to an outbreak, let alone a pandemic. It is scientifically and ethically problematic.”

Too little is known about COVID-19 immunity to be sure if herd immunity can even be achieved, he said, referring to documented cases where people have been infected with the virus for a second time.

The most recent example of a reinfection came on Tuesday, when a man from Nevada tested positive for COVID-19 twice.