Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, on Thursday called herd immunity and implications from The Great Barrington Declaration “nonsense and very dangerous,” when it comes to stopping the spread of coronavirus in the U.S.
The comments arose when Daniel Klaidman, editor in chief at Yahoo News, questioned whether herd immunity is a viable strategy in the U.S., citing The Great Barrington Declaration and reports that some White House officials are embracing the approach, namely Dr. Scott Atlas who is on the coronavirus task force.
The Declaration, penned by professors at Harvard, Oxford and Stanford universities, calls for “focused protection” by letting young, low-risk populations carry on with their lives and naturally becoming infected while protecting those at high risk.
"As immunity builds in the population, the risk of infection to all – including the vulnerable – falls. We know that all populations will eventually reach herd immunity – i.e. the point at which the rate of new infections is stable – and that this can be assisted by (but is not dependent upon) a vaccine. Our goal should therefore be to minimize mortality and social harm until we reach herd immunity," authors wrote.
Fauci agrees with certain tenets of the Declaration, like avoiding lockdowns and protecting the vulnerable, however he said the document has other implications.
He estimated that about one-third of the population is vulnerable to serious complications from COVID-19 disease, arguing it would be impossible to protect these people who live outside of nursing homes. They are the elderly, the obese and those with underlying conditions like heart disease and diabetes. (The Declaration proposes using staff with acquired immunity, minimal staff rotation and frequent PCR testing of others in the facility.)
“Quite frankly, that is nonsense and anybody who knows anything about epidemiology will tell you that that is nonsense and very dangerous,” Fauci said, predicting that the approach would cause many avoidable deaths.
He said while a "certain core group of people" might be advocating for herd immunity, "talk at standard people" across the country with an understanding of infectious diseases and epidemiology would “vehemently disagree with the idea of letting everybody get infected and don’t worry about it.”
Fauci's condemnation of a herd immunity approach on Thursday comes days after the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, dismissed proposals for the strategy as "simply unethical." He noted that to obtain herd immunity from a highly infectious disease such as measles, for example, about 95% of the population must be immunized.