Healthcare

Trump official pushed for herd immunity, calling for low-risk Americans to be infected, emails show

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A Trump administration official pushed for a herd immunity strategy to respond to coronavirus, writing that it is good for lower-risk people to be infected with the virus, according to emails obtained by Congress.

Paul Alexander, at the time a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) official, referred to younger people and lower-risk people in an email and wrote, “we want them infected.”

“Infants, kids, teens, young people, young adults, middle aged with no conditions etc. have zero to little risk….so we use them to develop herd…we want them infected…and recovered…with antibodies….hospitals are NOW geared, PPE in place, ICUs beds are on the ready, doctors and nurses alert, the syndrome is crystalized… etc,” he wrote in a July 4 email to other HHS officials obtained by the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.

A wide range of health experts has denounced the herd immunity strategy he advocated as leading to unnecessary deaths. The White House has previously denied it was pursuing such a strategy.

But Scott Atlas, for months a top adviser to President Trump on the coronavirus response, praised a document advocating allowing the virus to circulate among less-vulnerable people to build up immunity, known as the Great Barrington Declaration.

While such a strategy calls for protecting the vulnerable, most health experts say it is impossible to shield vulnerable people if the virus is circulating unchecked among others.

Alexander was an adviser to HHS Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Michael Caputo. Both Alexander and Caputo have since left their positions after a series of controversies.

“His emails absolutely did not shape department strategy,” an HHS spokesperson said Wednesday in response to the emails’ release. “Dr. Paul Alexander previously served as a temporary Senior Policy Advisor to the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs and is no longer employed at the Department.”

The spokesperson pointed to HHS Secretary Alex Azar previously saying the administration was not pursuing a herd immunity strategy.

“Herd immunity is not the strategy of the U.S. government with regard to coronavirus,” Azar testified before Congress in October.

“Our mission is to reduce fatalities, protect the vulnerable, keep coronavirus cases down to the lowest level possible,” he added.

In another email June 24, Alexander seemed to acknowledge that easing restrictions, as the administration advocated, would lead to more cases, but downplayed how serious those cases would be.

“There is a rise in cases due to testing and also simultaneously due to the relaxing of restrictions, less social distancing,” he wrote. “We always knew as you relax and open up, cases will rise…but what type of cases? If we test more we will find more…but are the new cases problematic???”

Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), the chairman of the select subcommittee, called on HHS to produce more requested documents and to make Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield available for an interview. He threatened subpoenas if the department is not more forthcoming.

“I am deeply troubled that, instead of promoting the best available science needed to keep Americans safe, the Trump Administration has played politics with a pandemic that has claimed the lives of more than 300,000 of our fellow Americans,” Clyburn said.

Tags CDC Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Coronavirus COVID-19 Donald Trump Health and Human Services herd immunity HHS House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis Pandemic Robert Redfield Scott Atlas

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