On the Fourth of July this year, a Trump appointee at the Department of Health and Human Services expressed his patriotism by encouraging as many Americans to contract the coronavirus as possible.
According to emails obtained by Politico, former science adviser Paul Alexander wrote to his boss — Health and Human Services assistant secretary for public affairs Michael Caputo — and other senior officials, encouraging the department to embrace a strategy of herd immunity: “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.” In the same message, the former professor of health research added, “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.”
Throughout the pandemic, actual public-health experts have warned against the dangers of a herd-immunity strategy, which would put millions of healthy Americans at risk of developing long-term health problems while increasing our already-staggering COVID death toll. The top epidemiologist in Sweden, the one nation that directly embraced a herd-immunity approach, admitted late last month that, eight months into the pandemic, there were “no signs of immunity in the population that are slowing down the infection right now.”
Alexander’s close connection to the president through his manager, Caputo, made his concerning herd-immunity message all the worse. “It was understood that he spoke for Michael Caputo, who spoke for the White House,” Kyle McGowan, a Trump appointee and former Centers for Disease Control chief of staff, told Politico. “That’s how they wanted it to be perceived.” Ultimately, both Caputo and Alexander left the department after they were caught pressuring CDC officials to amend their weekly COVID reports to be more politically friendly for Donald Trump. (The resignations also occurred after Caputo went on a Facebook rant accusing CDC scientists of engaging in an act of “sedition” against the president.)
While HHS secretary Alex Azar told the House coronavirus subcommittee in October that “herd immunity is not the strategy of the U.S. government with regard to coronavirus,” Alexander’s questionable direction shows the strategy was at least being floated by influential appointees in key Cabinet positions — not to mention in statements from Trump himself encouraging the flouting of COVID lockdowns and the condemnations of mass testing that slowly helped push the nation toward an unofficial and disastrous herd approach. Alexander wasn’t alone in his callousness, either: Noted crank and former White House COVID adviser Scott Atlas was also reportedly in favor of a herd-immunity strategy.