Story at a glance

  • Scientists behind the declaration argue that allowing the virus to spread naturally among young, healthy people while protecting vulnerable populations could achieve herd immunity and avoid lockdowns.
  • During the call Monday, a White House official said the administration was not “endorsing a plan,” but said the proposed approach put forward in the Great Barrington Declaration supports what has been President Trump’s policy for months.
  • The approach has been widely criticized by mainstream public health experts.

The White House has reportedly been receptive to a group of doctors who are proponents of the controversial herd immunity approach to the COVID-19 pandemic, even as health experts have warned the method would be deadly, dangerous and unethical. 

Herd immunity happens when a large portion of the population becomes immune to a virus. This can happen either because people became vaccinated or have already been infected and build antibodies to ward off new infections.


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The Washington Post reports senior administration officials with the White House cited a declaration dubbed the Great Barrington Declaration during a background briefing call Monday with reporters. 

Infectious disease epidemiologists and public health scientists behind the declaration argue that allowing the virus to spread naturally among young, healthy people while protecting vulnerable populations, such as the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, would build up enough population immunity to stop the virus from spreading widely while avoiding lockdowns and other mitigation measures that have a negative effect on society. 

The document was drawn up last week by Martin Kulldorff of Harvard University, Sunetra Gupta of Oxford University and Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford University. 

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

“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..”

During the call Monday, a White House official said the administration was not “endorsing a plan,” but said the proposed approach put forward in the Great Barrington Declaration supports what has been President Trump’s policy for months. 

“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, according to the Washington Post. 

The plan has been signed by more than 447,000 concerned citizens and more than 9,500 medical practitioners, but has been widely criticized by public health experts. Sky News reported last week, however, that dozens of fake names had signed the declaration, including Dr. Johnny Bananas and Dr. Person Fakename. 

On Monday, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) called the herd immunity approach “simply unethical.” 

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said most people who contract COVID-19 develop an immune response, but it’s unknown how long the immunity lasts and how powerful it is. 

“What I worry about with this is it’s being presented as if it’s a major alternative view that’s held by large numbers of experts in the scientific community. That is not true,” National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins told the Washington Post. 

“This is a fringe component of epidemiology. This is not mainstream science. It’s dangerous. It fits into the political views of certain parts of our confused political establishment,” he told the outlet. 

The nation’s top infectious diseases expert, Anthony Fauci, in August warned that the U.S. would see a staggering death toll from the coronavirus if the country allowed infections to spread unchecked in an effort to achieve herd immunity. 


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Published on Oct 14, 2020