Health Expert Says White House Adviser’s Idea For Coronavirus Herd Immunity Is ‘Pixie Dust And Pseudoscience’

A picture of the White House.
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A public health expert is speaking out against an idea floated by a White House adviser to seek a way to achieve herd immunity for the coronavirus pandemic, an approach that many have criticized as dangerous and ineffective.

Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said during an appearance on Meet the Press on Sunday that infections may have to reach as high as 75 percent of the population in order to achieve herd immunity.

Earlier in the week, a medical adviser to President Donald Trump said the White House is pushing for the herd immunity approach, which would call for allowing some people to become infected so that the population builds up a natural resistance to the virus. The adviser, Scott Atlas, suggested that 20 percent of the population would need to become infected and recover from the coronavirus to achieve that mark, which drew strong pushback from Osterholm.

“First of all, that 20 percent number is the most amazing combination of pixie dust and pseudoscience I’ve ever seen,” he said. “It’s 50 percent to 70 percent at minimum.”

Osterholm added that in order to reach that higher mark, it would mean many more deaths and serious illnesses. He said the other approach would be to wait for a vaccine to be developed, and in the meantime try to keep the number of sick and infected people as low as possible.

He added that even if the White House were to go ahead with the idea, it would not bring a definitive end to the pandemic and would still mean ongoing infections.

“50 percent to 70 percent just slows down transmission, it doesn’t stop it,” he said. “So this virus is going to keep looking for wood to burn for as long as it can… so, our goal is to get as many people protected with vaccines.”

Trump has been criticized for his reaction to the pandemic, including a number of statements that have contradicted public health experts. That includes his resistance to wearing a mask in public and mocking his opponent, Democratic candidate Joe Biden, for his tendency to wear a mask in many social settings.

Others have criticized him for continuing to hold large, in-person campaign events that included little requirements for social distancing like wearing masks. That now includes a series of rallies held after Trump tested positive for coronavirus and was hospitalized for several days.