• The Financial District


A new top COVID-19 adviser to President Trump, Scott Atlas, is pushing the White House to embrace a “herd immunity” approach to the pandemic, which would allow the virus to spread nearly unmitigated through the population while protecting nursing home residents and other vulnerable people, reports The Washington Post

Building herd immunity in this way is an extremely controversial strategy and has been condemned by epidemiologists and the World Health Organization (WHO). WHO’s chief scientist, Soumya Swaminathan, says that 60 to 70 percent of the population would have to have immunity to COVID-19 to stop transmission, Sharon Zhang wrote for truthout on September 1, 2020. Though the death rate is low, “even if 1% of people who get infected are ultimately going to die, then this can add up to a huge number of people,” said Swaminathan in a WHO podcast. Herd immunity is commonly discussed alongside vaccination, as vaccines lower the rate of transmission by building population-level immunity to an illness, but the form of herd immunity being discussed in the White House does not appear to focus on vaccines.

With 6 million total cases so far in the U.S., that adds up to less than 2 percent of the population that’s had the virus. If 60 to 70 percent of the US population gets the virus, that would add up to hundreds of millions of cases, and over a million deaths at a 1-percent death rate. Even in survivors, there appear to be persistent long-term effects of the virus, like respiratory damage and “brain fog.”

William Hanage, a Harvard professor of epidemiology, likens herd immunity as a coronavirus policy to letting a house burn in The Guardian: Instead of putting out the fire to stop it from spreading house to house, the “government has inexplicably chosen to encourage the flames, in the misguided notion that somehow they will be able to control them.” Others, too, have compared this form of herd immunity to eugenics. In an opinion piece for Al Jazeera, anthropologists and professors Vito Laterza and Louis Philippe Romer write that “It is hard not to read eugenic implications in this kind of thinking: The ‘herd’ will survive, but for that to happen, other ‘weaker’ members of society need to be sacrificed.”

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