CORONAVIRUS

Multiple Health Organizations Unite To Condemn COVID-19 Herd Immunity Strategy

The groups took aim at those endorsing herd immunity, calling that approach a “wrong-headed" plan "masquerading as science.”

A bevy of health organizations has come together to issue a statement speaking out against herd immunity as a means of limiting the spread of COVID-19. 

The statement, published on Wednesday on the American Public Health Association (APHA) website, was authored by 17 groups, including the Trust for America’s Health and the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare.

It is a direct response to an open letter known as The Great Barrington Declaration, which was released on Oct. 4 and penned by professors at the Harvard Medical School, Stanford University’s Medical School and Oxford University. 

The Great Barrington Declaration has been embraced by senior White House officials. It argues that herd immunity ― the idea that a population will eventually develop natural antibodies to a disease over time as enough of its members are exposed to it ― is the only way to prevent the “devastating effects on short and long-term public health” caused by lockdown measures.

In order to achieve herd immunity, the declaration espouses allowing “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.”

This recommendation, according to the statement on APHA website, ignores reliable science, would take far too long and would result in needless death. 

“There is no evidence that we are even remotely close to herd immunity,” the statement reads. “To the contrary, experts believe that 85-90% of the U.S. population is still at risk of contracting SARS-CoV-2 (the coronavirus that causes COVID-19). Herd immunity is achieved when the virus stops circulating because a large segment of the population has already been infected. Letting Americans get sick, rather than focusing on proven methods to prevent infections, could lead to hundreds of thousands of preventable illnesses and deaths. It would also add greater risk in communities of color, which have already experienced disproportionate impacts of the pandemic.”

The statement highlights Sweden, which attempted a herd immunity response to COVID-19 and has been criticized for a laissez-faire attitude that has resulted in the highest mortality rate of any Nordic country, according to analysis by the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.  

“COVID-19 carries a much higher risk of severe disease and death than other infections where herd immunity was attempted before a vaccine was available,” the statement says. Critiquing the idea of allowing the coronavirus to spread among younger people, it continues, “This notion 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. They interact with family members, co-workers and neighbors. Inviting increased rates of COVID-19 in young people will lead to increased infection rates among all Americans.”

The statement calls masking and physical distancing “the path to a new normal” and blasts the Great Barrington Declaration and similar strategies as “wrong-headed proposals masquerading as science.” 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organization, have spoken out against a herd immunity approach to the coronavirus pandemic, arguing that allowing COVID-19 to spread unchecked would result in an unacceptable death toll.

In contrast, White House Coronavirus Task Force advisor Dr. Scott Atlas has embraced the concept. Atlas, who increasingly has the ear of President Donald Trump, works as a neuroradiologist and has no training in the area of infectious diseases. 

Read the entire statement on the American Public Health Association website here.


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