Top Trump administration officials pushed for the government to adopt a “dangerous herd immunity strategy” that would have “encouraged” Americans to contract and spread Covid-19 at the height of the pandemic in 2020, a new report from the House coronavirus select committee has found.
According to a year-end interim report by the House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis, Dr Scott Atlas — a radiologist with no infectious disease expertise who former president Donald Trump recruited to the White House after seeing him on Fox News — pushed for the strategy by arranging a meeting between Mr Trump and a group of epidemiologists who were in favour of letting the virus spread with relatively little control in August 2020.
According to testimony from former White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr Deborah Birx, Dr Atlas’ plan called for most Americans to “be allowed and actually encouraged to get the virus and spread the virus”.
Mr Trump was enamoured enough with the plan to agree to a 26 August 2020 meeting with Drs Jay Bhattacharya, Martin Kulldorff, and Sunetra Gupta, who in October would author the Great Barrington Declaration, a statement advocating “focused protection” of persons at the most risk of harm from Covid-19 while eschewing the mitigation measures used in most countries before the advent of Covid-19 vaccines, such as masks and physical distancing.
The government’s top medical experts recoiled from the idea of Mr Trump meeting with the trio of herd immunity advocates. In an email released by the committee, Dr Birx replied to an email advising officials of remarks Mr Trump would make at the event by writing that it would be “best” if the event went on without her.
In a subsequent email, Dr Birx added that she could not “be part of this with these people who believe in herd immunity and believe we are fine with only protecting the 1.5 million Americans in [long-term care facilities] and not the 80 million-plus with comorbidities in the population”.
“These are people who believe that all the curves are predetermined and mitigation is irrelevant — they are a fringe group without grounding in epidemics, public health or on the ground experience,” she wrote.
Most reputable medical experts agree with the sentiments expressed by Dr Birx, and have rejected the “focused protection” approach laid out in the declaration as unscientific and risky. In a 9 October article posted on the Academy of Medical Sciences website, academy president Sir Robert Lecher called the approach to the pandemic “unethical and simply not possible”.
In her deposition before the committee, Dr Birx said the concepts championed by Dr Atlas “theoretically can be outlined on a piece of paper,” but in practice most of the “most vulnerable” were living in multigenerational homes or with essential workers, and therefore difficult to isolate.
“There was no way to isolate the vulnerable family member from the other family members. So theoretically you could talk about protecting the vulnerable, but in my mind the only way to truly protect the vulnerable that were – and this could be also because I have a multigenerational household, so I understand the constant risk of the working individual’s exposure and coming home every night to the household … and so his conceptual framework, although theoretic and possible on paper to make statements about protecting the most vulnerable in the United States, it was not implementable,” she said.