While President Trump has previously encouraged the idea, claiming that it’s “going to happen,” scientists call herd immunity "a dangerous fallacy"

By Julie Mazziotta
October 15, 2020 02:57 PM
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President Donald Trump speaks on the White House balcony after being hospitalized with COVID-19

A group of 80 scientists from around the world are warning against trying to end the COVID-19 pandemic through herd immunity, calling the idea a “dangerous fallacy.”

Herd immunity occurs when a large part of a community becomes immune to a disease, reducing the spread from person to person and in effect, protecting everyone. However, a certain amount of the population has to become immune — and the more contagious the virus, the harder it is to reduce the spread.

In the case of COVID-19, an extremely contagious virus, the idea of creating herd immunity without a vaccine is a “dangerous fallacy unsupported by the scientific evidence,” the scientists wrote in an open letter, published in the journal The Lancet.

Another issue explained by the group, which includes researchers in public health, epidemiology, virology and infectious disease, is that it is not yet known how long recovered COVID-19 patients have immunity, if they do at all.

"There is no evidence for lasting protective immunity to SARS-CoV-2 [the virus that causes COVID-19] following natural infection," they said. Additionally, infecting a large portion of a community, even younger people, “risks significant morbidity and mortality across the whole population.”

“Such a strategy would not end the COVID-19 pandemic but result in recurrent epidemics, as was the case with numerous infectious diseases before the advent of vaccination,” they said. “It would also place an unacceptable burden on the economy and health-care workers, many of whom have died from COVID-19 or experienced trauma as a result of having to practice disaster medicine.”

Currently, around 10 percent of the world's population has contracted COVID-19. Experts have estimated that about 60 percent would need to have the virus for any kind of herd immunity.

The open letter comes as senior members of the Trump administration, advisor Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist with no experience in infectious diseases, and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, met to discuss a push for herd immunity. According to The Hill, a small group of doctors spoke with Atlas and Azar about their “Great Barrington Declaration,” which recommends letting young and healthy people contract COVID-19 to get the U.S. to herd immunity.

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Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Thursday that the Great Barrington Declaration is “total nonsense.”

“If you just let things rip and let the infection go … that quite frankly, George, is ridiculous,” he said in an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.

Obstacles to that plan, said Fauci, are the 30 percent of the population with preexisting conditions and the likelihood that young adults would spread the virus to older people.

“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,” Fauci said. “So I think that we just got to look that square in the eye and say it's nonsense.”

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