Herd

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

White House officials promote herd immunity declaration signed by fake names: report

White House officials have promoted a declaration supporting herd immunity that has reportedly been signed by fake names, The New York Times reported Tuesday.



a man wearing a suit and tie: White House officials promote herd immunity declaration signed by fake names: report


© Getty Images
White House officials promote herd immunity declaration signed by fake names: report

In a Monday phone call, White House officials cited the Great Barrington Declaration, which argues that the government should push for herd immunity with more infections among the healthy population, according to two senior administration officials.

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Supporters of the declaration use it to argue against lockdowns and more reopenings during the pandemic.

“Current lockdown policies are producing devastating effects on short and long-term public health,” the declaration states.

“The most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity, is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk.”

The declaration has been signed by 445,902 concerned citizens, 9,510 medical and public health scientists and 25,049 medical practitioners, according to its website. But Sky News found last week that dozens of fake names had signed the document, including Dr. I.P. Freely, Dr. Person Fakename and Dr. Johnny Bananas.

Another signatory called himself Dr. Harold Shipman, a general practitioner in the United Kingdom. In 1998, a man named Harold Shipman was arrested after killing more than 200 of his patients.

The declaration was also signed by at least 18 self-declared homeopaths who signed as medical practitioners and 100 therapists, including massage therapists, hypnotherapists and psychotherapists.

Several health experts expressed concerns that the declaration is misrepresenting the size of the medical community’s support for the herd immunity approach, according to Sky News.

Experts predict that 85 to 90 percent of the U.S.

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.

White House embraces a declaration from scientists that opposes lockdowns and relies on ‘herd immunity.’

The White House has embraced a declaration by a group of scientists arguing that authorities should allow the coronavirus to spread among young healthy people while protecting the elderly and the vulnerable — an approach that would rely on arriving at “herd immunity” through infections rather than a vaccine.

Many experts say “herd immunity” — the point at which a disease stops spreading because nearly everyone in a population has contracted it — is still very far-off. Leading experts have concluded, using different scientific methods, that about 85 to 90 percent of the American population is still susceptible to the coronavirus.

On a call convened Monday by the White House, two senior administration officials, both speaking anonymously because they were not authorized to give their names, cited an October 4 petition titled The Great Barrington Declaration, which argues against lockdowns and calls for a reopening of businesses and schools.

“Current lockdown policies are producing devastating effects on short and long-term public health,” the declaration states, adding, “The most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity, is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk. We call this Focused Protection.”

The declaration has more than 9,000 signatories from all over the world, its website says, though most of the names are not public. The document grew out of a meeting hosted by the American Institute for Economic Research, a libertarian-leaning research organization.

Its lead authors include Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, an epidemiologist and infectious disease expert at Stanford University, the academic home of Dr. Scott Atlas, President Trump’s science adviser. Dr. Atlas has also espoused herd immunity.

The declaration’s architects

Proposal to hasten herd immunity to the coronavirus grabs White House attention but appalls top scientists

When asked for comment, HHS referred a reporter to Azar’s subsequent Twitter statement about the meeting: “We heard strong reinforcement of the Trump Administration’s strategy of aggressively protecting the vulnerable while opening schools and the workplace.”

A senior administration official told reporters in a background briefing call Monday that the proposed strategy — which has been denounced by other infectious-disease experts and has been called “fringe” and “dangerous” by National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins — supports what has been Trump’s policy for months.

“We’re not endorsing a plan. The plan is endorsing what the president’s policy has been for months. The president’s policy — protect the vulnerable, prevent hospital overcrowding, and open schools and businesses — and he’s been very clear on that,” the official said.

“Everybody knows that 200,000 people died. That’s extremely serious and tragic. But on the other hand, I don’t think society has to be paralyzed, and we know the harms of confining people to their homes,” the official added.

Trump has long chafed at the economic damage from shutdowns imposed to control the pandemic, and has repeatedly pushed states to reopen, at one point threatening to withhold federal funding from states that did not open schools. After he contracted the virus and developed symptoms of covid-19 serious enough to require hospitalization, Trump still urged the public, “Don’t be afraid of Covid.”

In pushing his agenda, Trump has steadily drifted away from the counsel of his own government’s top doctors, such as White House coronavirus task force coordinator Deborah Birx and Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Into that void has stepped Atlas, who has relied on the maverick scientists to bolster his in-house arguments. At a recent White House news briefing, he cited them by name.