Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, sits before a Senate Working and Retirement Committee hearing on Health Education in Washington, DC on Wednesday, September 23, 2020.
Graeme Jennings | Bloomberg | Getty Images
If the coronavirus penetrated the US population uncontrollably in an attempt to infect as many people as possible to achieve what is known as herd immunity, it would cause many unnecessary deaths. The idea is “nonsense” and “dangerous,” said the country’s leading infectious disease expert on Thursday.
“I’ll tell you exactly how I think about it,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, when asked if herd immunity is a viable strategy for the US. “When you let infection rip apart, so to speak, and say, ‘Let infect anyone who can become infected, and then we have herd immunity.’ Frankly, this is nonsense, and anyone who knows anything about epidemiology will tell you that this is nonsense and very dangerous, “Fauci told Yahoo News.
Herd immunity occurs when a large part of the population is immune to a disease, making it unlikely to spread and protect the rest of the community, the Mayo Clinic says. This can be done through natural infections – when enough people are exposed to the disease and develop antibodies to it – and through vaccination.
Most scientists believe that 60% to 80% of the population must be vaccinated or have natural antibodies to achieve herd immunity, say global health experts. However, the best health experts in the country have found that the majority of Americans are still prone to coronavirus infection.
“With this herd immunity idea, this is a term that is used when you are vaccinating. When you are vaccinating a certain amount of the population to protect the rest of the population who cannot get that vaccine,” said Maria Van Kerkhove , Head of the World Health Organization’s Emerging Diseases and Zoonosis Division, told CNN’s “New Day” on Thursday.
“Herd immunity as an approach to circulating the virus is dangerous, leading to unnecessary cases and unnecessary death,” she said.
Despite these concerns, on a phone call on Monday a senior White House official mentioned an online movement called “Great Barrington Declaration“which favors herd immunity, NBC News reported. Alex Azar, Secretary for Health and Human Services has previously said that herd immunity “is not the US government’s strategy on coronavirus.”
However, the Barrington Declaration assumes that people who are prone to serious illnesses live in facilities like nursing homes where they can be protected, but “that doesn’t work,” Fauci said.
That’s because roughly a third of the population tends to develop serious side effects from Covid-19, including elderly, obese people who have underlying health conditions like heart disease, etc., he said.
“By the time you get herd immunity, you will have killed a lot of people who would have been preventable,” he said.
Fauci said he announced his position on herd immunity to the White House, adding that Dr. Deborah Birx, the government’s coronavirus task force coordinator, and Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, agree.
“All three of us are clearly against it,” he said.