The White House is embracing a dubious route to “herd immunity,” a strategy rejected by most health experts.
By Jonathan Wolfe and Amelia Nierenberg
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The White House embraces a dubious route to ‘herd immunity’
The White House confirmed this week that it is embracing a strategy rejected by most health experts to combat the coronavirus.
The approach aims to achieve “herd immunity” — the point where the virus stops spreading because enough people are immune — not by vaccine, but by allowing the virus to spread unchecked among young healthy people, while using isolation to protect the elderly and otherwise vulnerable.
That thinking is central to a recent petition put forth by three scientists, titled the Great Barrington Declaration, that top administration officials told The Times this week that they are endorsing.
The petition argues against lockdowns and calls for a reopening of businesses and schools, and for those who are not vulnerable to “resume life as normal.” At least two of the petition’s signatories argue that societies may achieve herd immunity when just 10 to 20 percent of their populations have been infected, a proportion most epidemiologists believe is far too small.
Our science colleague Apoorva Mandavilli told us that the more widely accepted science suggests that herd immunity requires 50 percent or more of the population to be immune.
“Even 20 or 25 percent, really only New York is probably around that,” Apoorva told us. “The rest of the country is more around 10 percent, so we’re talking about possibly doubling the toll everywhere we’ve seen so far.”
She pointed out other flaws in the declaration including the assumption that only a small portion of the population is vulnerable and would need to isolate. “We’re worried about anybody with underlying conditions, like obesity and diabetes, and in the U.S. that’s almost half the population,” she said.
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