Internal emails show how a Trump-appointee at Health and Human Services wanted to intentionally let everyone get infected with coronavirus.
A new bombshell House report this week slammed the Trump administration for a "deliberate or reckless policy" on herd immunity, citing damning internal emails from a top political appointee pushing the idea, which medical experts have warned is "dangerous" and "extremely unwise."
The House Oversight Committee's select subcommittee on the coronavirus released the report, first obtained by Politico, on Wednesday. The emails were discovered in the course of the committee's investigation into the Trump administration's political interference with the government's COVID-19 response.
"Documents obtained by the Select Subcommittee show that top Trump Administration officials repeatedly communicated about pursuing a dangerous herd immunity strategy as far back as June 2020, despite public denials that the Administration was adopting this approach," the report said.
Paul Alexander, Donald Trump's former science adviser and political appointee to the Health and Human Services Department, specifically advocated for a "herd immunity" approach, internal emails showed.
"The views expressed in these private communications were later echoed by President Trump and other officials, raising the serious possibility that key Administration officials have pursued a deliberate or reckless policy of allowing Americans to be infected with the coronavirus," said the House subcommittee.
The memo then cited emails from Alexander, who worked for Michael Caputo, Health and Human Services assistant secretary for public affairs, earlier in the year.
On July 4, Alexander wrote to Caputo and six other officials in the department, "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."
"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...." Alexander continued in a follow-up message. "… [W]e want them infected..."
And on July 24, Alexander suggested a "natural immunity…natural exposure" strategy again, writing, "[I]t may be that it will be best if we open up and flood the zone and let the kids and young folk[s] get infected," in a message to Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn, FDA Associate Commissioner for External Affairs John Wagner, and several HHS officials.
But doctors have markedly cautioned against achieving herd immunity through natural infection. Several infectious diseases experts spoke to the American Independent Foundation earlier this year as coronavirus cases spiked across the nation, noting that the death toll from such an approach would be devastating.
"The human cost of getting to herd immunity is staggering," said Dr. Andrew Pavia, pediatric infectious diseases division chief at the University of Utah. He called the idea an "extremely unwise approach."
In fact, most public health experts think that's "dangerous," according to Pavia.
Medical experts say about 60-70% of the population would need to be exposed to the coronavirus to achieve natural herd immunity.
"We are nowhere near achieving the level of infection that might slow the pandemic through herd immunity," added Pavia, who is also a spokesman for the Infectious Diseases Society of America.
Dr. Peter Katona, an infectious diseases professor at the UCLA School of Medicine and former chair of the UCLA Infection Control Committee, had similar thoughts.
"To just say, well, forget masking and distancing, and staying away from crowds because it’s going to happen eventually anyways, so just let it happen and get it over with, I think is a terrible mistake," he said.
Dr. Saralyn Mark, COVID-19 lead for the American Medical Women's Association, warned that "millions of people could die" if the natural herd immunity approach is taken.
A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association backs that: The study showed infection-based herd immunity is "fraught with risks" and could result in "substantial mortality."
Wednesday's report is the latest evidence of the Trump administration's gross mishandling of the pandemic more broadly. Since the beginning of the crisis, Trump has attempted to downplay its severity, repeatedly suggesting the the virus was "going to go away" on its own, and, as recently as this month, lauding the fact that those infected would be blessed with immunity.
"You know, they say that before I had it, they said if you catch it you're immune for life," he said at a rally in Georgia Dec. 5.
Trump simultaneously tried to take credit for a vaccine breakthrough last month, despite the fact that one of the manufacturers behind the breakthrough, Pfizer — whose vaccine was announced first in early November — had not received any funding from the Trump administration for its research.
A second vaccine breakthrough by Moderna was also claimed as a victory for the Trump administration, as the company had received support funds from Operation Warp Speed.
Neither Pfizer, which Trump targeted with criticism for distancing itself from him, nor Moderna chose to attend a celebratory event at the White House on Dec. 8, dubbed a vaccine "summit." According to STAT News, "The event appeared to be an effort for the administration to claim credit for the rapid development of a Covid-19 vaccine and to pressure the Food and Drug Administration to move quickly on an authorization."
At the time of publication, more than 17 million people have been infected and at least 307,000 have died from the virus.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.