One of Donald Trump’s top new medical advisers is urging the White House to embrace a “herd immunity” strategy to combat the coronavirus pandemic. Herd-immunity strategies entail allowing disease to spread through much of the population, thereby building natural immunity to the deadly, highly contagious virus. Basing its reporting on “five people familiar with the discussions,” The Washington Post says the Trump White House has already begun to implement some policies along these lines. The approach’s chief proponent is Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist with no background in infectious diseases or epidemiology from Stanford’s conservative Hoover Institution. Atlas has advocated that the United States adopt the Swedish model, which relies on lifting restrictions so that healthy people can build up immunity to the disease rather than limiting social and business interactions to prevent the virus from spreading. Sweden has had among the highest infection and death rates in the world, leading many to denounce its policies as reckless; others have argued that despite a high initial surge of mortality, annual excess deaths may end the year broadly on par with trends for the country.
“The administration faces some pretty serious hurdles in making this argument. One is a lot of people will die, even if you can protect people in nursing homes,” said Paul Romer, a professor at New York University who won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2018. Atlas denied the report after refusing to be interviewed until after the Post published. “There is no policy of the president or this administration of achieving herd immunity. There never has been any such policy recommended to the president or to anyone else from me,” he said in a statement issued by the White House. More than 183,000 Americans have died of coronavirus since the pandemic began.