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Critics blast controversial declaration favoring herd immunity

A controversial proposal that promotes building herd immunity to COVID-19 through natural infection among populations with low mortality risk has been called “unethical,” impractical, and “dangerous.”

However, the three top scientists proposing it last week had a private audience with US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Scott Atlas, MD, a top medical adviser to President Donald Trump. A growing list of online signers includes some high-profile physicians and scientists.

The original architects of the proposal, called the Great Barrington Declaration, are prominent names in the scientific community, including Martin Kulldorff, an epidemiologist at Harvard University, Sunetra Gupta, an epidemiologist at Oxford University in the United Kingdom, and Jay Bhattacharya, a professor and public health policy expert in infectious diseases at Stanford University in California.

The organizers call their approach “Focused Protection,” which promotes isolating and increasing protection of groups who are most vulnerable to COVID-19 while avoiding lockdowns, letting the rest of the world go back to work, school, sports, and daily life activities while natural infection builds herd immunity.

“We know that vulnerability to death from COVID-19 is more than a thousand-fold higher in the old and infirm than the young,” the writers say.

Social distancing measures and quarantine restrictions, which have led to job and income loss, cause more harm than good, they say, citing lower child vaccination rates, fewer cancer screenings and the growing toll on mental health.

Letting the virus spread naturally will lead to herd immunity, they claim, with or without a vaccine.

Critics note that the proposal is short on specifics on how to separate vulnerable populations. They say the proposal seems to envision quick herd immunity without considering the “long-haulers,” or the people still feeling the effects of COVID-19 months after their infection.

Today, the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) and its HIV Medicine Association strongly denounced the declaration, “released without data or evidence, that states this crisis can be controlled in the absence of critical public health measures.”

IDSA President Thomas M. File Jr, MD, MSc, and HIVMA Chair Judith Feinberg, MD, said in the statement that herd immunity as an answer to the COVID-19 pandemic “is inappropriate, irresponsible, and ill-informed.”

“ ’Community immunity,’ or ‘herd immunity,’ a goal of vaccination campaigns, should never come at the cost of the planned exposure and infection of millions of additional people, as well as the severe illness and preventable deaths of hundreds of thousands of people,” they write. (Courtesy Medscape)

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