WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci is criticizing a declaration by a group of scientists that supports the concept of “herd immunity,” which the White House is using to bolster a push to reopen schools and businesses amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Fauci says backing herd immunity — the idea that a disease will stop spreading once nearly everybody has contracted it — is “total nonsense.”
The top U.S. infectious disease expert says: “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 death,” he told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Thursday.
“So I think that we’ve just got to look that square in the eye and say it’s nonsense.”
The U.S. leads the world with 7.9 million coronavirus cases and nearly 217,000 confirmed deaths. Globally, there have been 38 million reported cases and 1.09 million confirmed deaths.
On Monday, the head of the World Health Organization also warned against the idea that herd immunity might be a realistic strategy to stop the coronavirus pandemic, dismissing such proposals as “simply unethical.”
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said health officials typically aim to achieve herd immunity by vaccination. Tedros noted that to obtain herd immunity from a highly infectious disease such as measles, for example, about 95 per cent of the population must be immunized.
“Herd immunity is achieved by protecting people from a virus, not by exposing them to it,” he said. Some researchers have argued that allowing COVID-19 to spread in populations that are not obviously vulnerable will help build up herd immunity and is a more realistic way to stop the pandemic, instead of the restrictive lockdowns that have proved economically devastating.
“Never in the history of public health has herd immunity been used as a strategy for responding to an outbreak,” Tedros said.
Tedros said that too little was known about immunity to COVID-19 to know if herd immunity is even achievable.