At the outset of the pandemic, Dr. Fauci was often by the president’s side at news conferences, joined by Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the White House coronavirus task force coordinator. But the two appear to have been sidelined by Dr. Scott W. Atlas, the president’s new science adviser, a radiologist who has argued that the role of the government is not to stamp out the virus but to protect its most vulnerable citizens as Covid-19 takes its course.
That last idea appears to have taken hold in the White House, where two senior administration officials on Monday embraced a declaration arguing that the authorities should allow the coronavirus to spread naturally among young, healthy people while protecting the vulnerable — a heavily disputed approach that argues “herd immunity” should be achieved naturally rather than through a vaccine.
The officials, both speaking anonymously on a conference call with reporters, cited an Oct. 4 petition titled The Great Barrington Declaration, which argued against lockdowns and called for reopening businesses and schools.
“Current lockdown policies are producing devastating effects on short- and long-term public health,” the declaration states, adding: “The most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk. We call this Focused Protection.”
The declaration has more than 9,000 signatories from all over the world, its website says, though most of the names are not public. The document grew out of a meeting hosted by the American Institute for Economic Research, a libertarian-leaning research organization. Its lead authors include Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, an epidemiologist and infectious disease expert at Stanford University, where Dr. Atlas is a senior fellow.
“The plan is endorsing what the president’s policy has been for months,” one official said on the call.
Public health experts generally agree that further lockdowns are not optimal and can indeed cause harm to economic and physical health. But experts say herd immunity is not and should never be a strategy, because it could involve hundreds of thousand of avoidable deaths.