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What did Trump team say about herd immunity in the US?

‘We want them infected’, Trump appointee Paul Alexander has said, as he demanded ‘herd immunity’ strategy to covid-19, watchdog investigation reveals

Alex Azar, HHS Secretary speaks as coronavirus vaccines are administered in US
Jacquelyn Martin / POOLEFE

An investigation published on Wednesday has revealed that one of the Department of Health and Human Services’ former advisors repeatedly advocated for allowing millions of young and middle aged Americans to be infected with covid-19 during the summer, in an effort to pursue the controversial “herd immunity” strategy.

Paul Alexander, ex-head of communications for Health and Human Services in federal government who was appointed by Donald Trump in April is at the centre of the scandal. He took a leave of absence following another scandal in September over accusing CDC scientists of gathering a "resistance unit" for "sedition" against President Trump.

Emails have been uncovered  in which he wrote to his bosses several times throughout June and July 2020 making a case that there was “no other way” to tackle the coronavirus except to establish “herd immunity” by allowing low-risk groups to expose themselves to the virus.

What exactly did Paul Alexander say about herd immunity?

In an email dated 4 July to the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Michael Captuo, Alexander wrote “Infants, kids, teens, young people, young adults, middle aged with no conditions etc. have zero to little risk… so we use them to develop herd…we want them infected…There is no other way, we need to establish herd, and it only comes about allowing the non-high risk groups expose themselves to the virus. PERIOD," he added.

Then on 24 July, Alexander wrote to the Food and Drug Administration’s Commissioner Stephen Hahn, Associated Commissioner for External Affairs John Wagner and numerous top HHS officials arguing that it “may be best to open up the flood zone and let the kids and young folk get infected.”

Alexander also acknowledged in the emails that the Trump administration was aware its policies would increase the spread of covid-19, urged HHS staff to release more “positive statements” in support of the administration’s pandemic response and cast blame on scientists like Dr. Anthony Fauci for offering less rosy assessments of the situation, accusing them of trying to “make the president look bad.”

“So the bottom line is if it is more infectiouness [sic] now, the issue is who cares? If it is causing more cases in young, my word is who cares…as long as we make sensible decisions, and protect the elderely [sic] and nursing homes, we must go on with life….who cares if we test more and get more positive tests,” Alexander wrote to senior HHS officials on 3 July.

What have critics said of the Paul Alexander emails?

Republican Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), the chair of the coronavirus subcommittee, said in a statement that the documents “show a pernicious pattern of political interference by administration officials,” which highlights why the HHS must cooperate with the House’s investigation. "As the virus spread through the country, these officials callously wrote, 'who cares' and 'we want them infected,'" said Clyburn. "They privately admitted they ‘always knew’ the President’s policies would cause a ‘rise’ in cases, and they plotted to blame the spread of the virus on career scientists.”

What is herd immunity?

The idea of herd immunity – usually used in reference to vaccines - is that a disease is given to a population, thus preventing the possibility of widespread outbreaks. The idea of allowing herd immunity to build “naturally”, uncontrolled, is very controversial because in a normal population - and with a virus as infectious and potentially severe as covid-19 - the process of achieving herd immunity would almost certainly result in widespread, preventable fatalities and overwhelmed healthcare systems.

For example, as Axios point out, with natural herd immunity, there is no way to control the spread between those low-risk groups and people extremely at-risk. Nursing home cases have moved in tandem with the total number of cases, even though we've known for months that nursing homes are as at-risk as it gets.


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