Trump appointee urged health officials to adopt herd immunity in controversial emails: ‘We want them infected’

‘There is no other way, we need to establish herd’

Chris Riotta
New York
Wednesday 16 December 2020 19:51 GMT
Melania Trump removes mask at children's hospital

A former top science adviser for the federal government encouraged leading health officials to adopt so-called “herd immunity” to fight against the Covid-19 outbreak, according to a new report.

Paul Alexander, a former top deputy to Health and Human Services assistant secretary for public affairs Michael Caputo, reportedly warned health officials in a series of emails obtained by Politico that “there is no other way” to battle the pandemic besides exposing people to the novel coronavirus.

The concept of "herd immunity" is a theory achieved by protecting the most vulnerable from a novel virus while others attain immunity, whether through being exposed to it or through a vaccine. When most of a population is immune – meaning a "herd threshold" is passed – the spread of the virus declines.

“There is no other way, we need to establish herd, and it only comes about allowing the non-high risk groups expose themselves to the virus. PERIOD," Mr Alexander wrote to his boss and six other senior officials in a July email, Politico reported on Wednesday. “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.”

At one point, the former deputy wrote: “We want them infected.”

The nation’s leading epidemiologists have decried calls for the federal government to adopt the herd immunity strategy, saying it could lead to millions of deaths. But the president has at the very least flirted with the idea of it, installing a number of advisers who have publicly expressed support for adopting herd immunity.

Mr Alexander went on to write that it may “be best if we open up and flood the zone and let the kids and young folk get infected” to achieve “natural immunity” through “natural exposure,” again providing a misleading interpretation of the concept he was asking the officials to promote.

The emails surrounded his efforts to keep universities across the country open in the midst of the global pandemic, as Republicans and close allies of the president urged states and local municipalities to keep restaurants and other businesses open despite CDC warnings and the soaring death toll. At least 300,000 Americans nationwide have died as a result of the pandemic.

Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, described the concept of adopting herd mentality to battle Covid-19 as “nonsense” in an October statement.

“If you let infections rip as it were and say, ‘Let everybody get infected that’s going to be able to get infected and then we’ll have herd immunity,’” he said.  “Quite frankly that is nonsense, and anybody who knows anything about epidemiology will tell you that that is nonsense and very dangerous.”

Still, Mr Caputo asked his advisers to research the concept after receiving the emails from Mr Alexander. But White House officials have since repeatedly said they were not seeking to adopt herd immunity, with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar testifying before Congress in October: “Herd immunity is not the strategy of the US government with regard to coronavirus.” 

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