According to internal emails obtained by the House Oversight Committee, a top Trump appointee urged top health officials to pursue a “herd immunity” approach to the pandemic and allow millions of Americans to become infected with COVID-19.
“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,” then-science adviser Paul Alexander wrote on July 4 to his boss, Health and Human Services assistant secretary for public affairs Michael Caputo, and six other senior officials.
“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…we want them infected…” Alexander added.
“[I]t may be that it will be best if we open up and flood the zone and let the kids and young folk get infected” in order to get “natural immunity…natural exposure,” Alexander wrote on July 24 to Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn, Caputo and eight other senior officials. Caputo subsequently asked Alexander to research the idea, according to emails obtained by the House Oversight Committee’s select subcommittee on coronavirus.
The emails also show that Alexander lamented “in a July 27 email to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield that ‘we essentially took off the battlefield the most potent weapon we had…younger healthy people, children, teens, young people who we needed to fastly [sic] infect themselves, spread it around, develop immunity, and help stop the spread.’”
Alexander was a top deputy of Caputo, who was personally installed by President Donald Trump in April to lead the health department’s communications efforts. Officials told POLITICO that they believed that when Alexander made recommendations, he had the backing of the White House.
Publicly, however, senior Trump administration officials have maintained that herd immunity was not a strategy under consideration.
HHS Secretary Alex Azar told the House Oversight Committee in October: “Herd immunity is not the strategy of the U.S. government with regard to coronavirus.”
The emails represent an unusual window on the internal deliberations of the Trump administration, and the tensions between political appointees like Alexander — a part-time professor at a Canadian university — and staff members in health agencies. On Sept. 16, HHS announced that Alexander would be leaving the department, just days after POLITICO first reported on his efforts to shape the CDC’s famed Morbidity and Mortality and Weekly Reports and pressure government scientist Anthony Fauci from speaking about the risks of Covid-19 to children.
An HHS spokesperson said in a statement that Alexander’s arguments “absolutely did not” inform the department’s strategy, Politico reported, adding: “Dr. Paul Alexander previously served as a temporary Senior Policy Advisor to the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs and is no longer employed at the Department.”
Image credit: Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour / Public Domain