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Fauci blasts herd immunity proposal embraced by White House as 'total nonsense'

Anthony FauciAnthony FauciCampaign spokesman on Trump calling Fauci an 'idiot': There's 'competing science' The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Goldman Sachs - Two weeks out, Trump attempts to rally the base McConnell aims for unity amid growing divisions with Trump MORE, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, on Thursday called a herd immunity proposal being embraced by the White House “total nonsense.” 

The so-called Great Barrington Declaration authored by a small group of doctors calls for quickly reaching herd immunity by letting COVID-19 spread uncontrolled among the young and healthy population while protecting the vulnerable.

Herd immunity, typically achieved with a vaccine, is the point at which a disease, like measles, stops spreading widely throughout a population because enough people have already had it and are immune to it. It's not clear if prior COVID-19 infection confers long-term immunity to the disease.

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“If you just let things rip and let the infection go … that, quite frankly, George, is ridiculous,” Fauci said Thursday, addressing ABC’s George StephanopoulosGeorge Robert StephanopoulosThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Goldman Sachs - Tipping point week for Trump, Biden, Congress, voters Pelosi: White House made 'unacceptable changes' to testing language during negotiations on coronavirus stimulus Infectious disease expert calls White House advisers herd immunity claims 'pseudoscience' MORE in an interview. 

Fauci, who appeared impassioned while railing against the proposal, noted that 30 percent of the population has underlying health conditions that makes them vulnerable. Additionally, older adults, even those who are otherwise healthy, are far more likely than young adults to become seriously ill if they get COVID-19.

“What that will do is that there will be so many people in the community that you can't shelter, that you can't protect, who are gonna get sick and get serious consequences,” Fauci said. 

“So this idea that we have the power to protect the vulnerable is total nonsense because history has shown that that's not the case. And, and if you talk to anybody who has any experience in epidemiology and infectious diseases, they will tell you that that is risky, and you'll wind up with many more infections of vulnerable people, which will lead to hospitalizations and deaths. So I think that we just got to look that square in the eye and say it's nonsense," he said.

The declaration has been embraced by Scott Atlas, neuroradiologist and adviser to Trump who has no obvious expertise on infectious diseases. 

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The three doctors behind the declaration met with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Atlas last week to discuss the declaration, as first reported by The Hill.

A senior Trump administration official then praised the declaration during a call with reporters Monday organized by the White House. 

The Great Barrington Declaration argues that lockdowns “are producing devastating effects on short and long-term public health,” including fewer cancer screenings, lower childhood vaccination rates and deteriorating mental health.

“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 reads. “We call this Focused Protection.”

Fauci on Thursday responded that no one is arguing for permanent lockdowns.

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“We don't want to shut down the country. I say that all the time. We certainly want to protect the vulnerable," he said.

Experts argue the best way to protect the vulnerable is by trying to slow the spread of COVID-19. The higher cases of COVID-19 are in a community, the more at risk the vulnerable are to getting sick, experts say.

“This [declaration] is dangerous because it puts the entire population, particularly the most vulnerable, at risk. Young people are not all healthy and they don’t live in vacuums,” dozens of scientists, doctors and researchers wrote in a letter published this week in The Lancet medical journal.

“They interact with family members, co-workers and neighbors. Inviting increased rates of COVID-19 in young people will lead to increased infections rates among all Americans," they said.