White House officials are backing a petition purportedly signed by thousands of doctors that embraces the idea of “herd immunity” for dealing with coronavirus — yet some have called into question the validity of the document being cited, as many of the names appearing on it look to be based on jokes.
The petition cited by officials, according to The New York Times, is called The Great Barrington Declaration. The group of individuals who have signed onto it say that the best way to handle COVID-19 is not through social distancing or other restrictive measures, but by letting healthy young people contract the virus supposedly in order to reach a herd immunity threshold number while protecting older and more vulnerable populations.
The petition allegedly has around 9,000 signatures of doctors from around the world. However, closer inspection of the document has revealed that many of the names are likely fakes.
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Dozens of names, as reporting from Sky News has uncovered, appear to be common prank jokes — including names like Dr. I.P. Freely, Dr. Person Fakename and Dr. Johnny Bananas. Some signatures may even have been added on without the knowledge of the signers. For instance, one of the names included is that of Harold Shipman, a doctor who was arrested in the late 1990s for killing 200 of his patients.
The legitimacy of the petition itself is questionable, as it doesn’t appear that any authentication was needed with regards to the signer’s credentials. A person could sign on to the petition, then merely check a box saying they were a doctor, in order to be included.
Beyond the embarrassing discovery that the petition looks to be full of fraudulent names, there is the worrisome situation of the White House once again pushing herd immunity as a means of addressing COVID-19. Health experts the world over have cautioned against doing so, with many noting that the practice is tantamount to the discredited practice of eugenics.
Herd immunity works by having such a high proportion of individuals contract a virus or disease that the contagion cannot effectively spread because most of the population has developed antibodies. Vaccines work in similar ways, but the type of herd immunity being pushed by the White House is going in a different direction, with the idea being that a threshold of safety can be reached in a natural way without the help of a vaccine.
The primary authors of the petition now being cited by the White House, Sunetra Gupta and Gabriela Gomes, believe herd immunity can be achieved with just a 10 to 20 percent infection rate. However, most epidemiologists disagree with this idea, as many vaccinations alone require over 90 percent of the population to have antibodies in order to be effective. The threshold for measles, for example, is thought to be 94 percent.
Most experts also believe that the percentage of the U.S. population that’s been exposed to coronavirus is closer to the 10 percent range. “More than 90 percent of the population remains susceptible” to COVID-19, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Robert Redfield said last month.
Additionally, it’s not yet known that exposure to coronavirus creates a permanent immunity. Indeed, reinfection appears to be a real possibility, as the first confirmed case in the U.S. of a person getting coronavirus twice was discovered recently.
In short, herd immunity is a strategy that should probably be avoided when trying to combat coronavirus, in most experts’ minds, as it could lead to hundreds of thousands of additional deaths if it is widely embraced. Yet it’s a strategy that the White House seems to have adopted as its primary method of dealing with the pandemic.
As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 8.1 million cases of coronavirus have been identified in the U.S., with more than 221,000 deaths resulting from the pandemic so far.