According to the declaration, which was discussed with reporters on a call with two top White House officials on Monday, only “vulnerable” people should actively protect themselves from COVID-19.
“Those who are not vulnerable should immediately be allowed to resume life as normal. Simple hygiene measures, such as hand washing and staying home when sick should be practiced by everyone to reduce the herd immunity threshold,” reads the declaration, written by scientists from Harvard, Stanford and Oxford universities.
“Schools and universities should be open for in-person teaching. Extracurricular activities, such as sports, should be resumed. Young low-risk adults should work normally, rather than from home. Restaurants and other businesses should open. Arts, music, sport and other cultural activities should resume. People who are more at risk may participate if they wish, while society as a whole enjoys the protection conferred upon the vulnerable by those who have built up herd immunity,” adds the declaration, which has been embraced by the White House, according to The Hill.
However, the declaration has not been endorsed by other top health experts, like Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who also serves on the White House’s coronavirus task force.
“If you just let things rip and let the infection go, no masks, crowd, it doesn’t make any difference - that quite frankly, George, is ridiculous,” Fauci told George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "Good Morning America" on Thursday.
Citing experts, the New York Times reported that herd immunity, which occurs when the disease stops spreading because it has been contracted by nearly everyone in a population, is still far off into the future for COVID-19. Between 85% and 90% of the American population is still susceptible to the respiratory disease, according to estimates by experts.
“You’ll wind up with many more infections of vulnerable people, which will lead to hospitalizations and deaths. So I think we’ve just got to look that square in the eye and say it’s nonsense,” Fauci added.
In a statement Thursday, other organizations like the National Association of County and City Health Officials, the American Public Health Association, the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health and the Public Health Institute also slammed the declaration.
“COVID-19 carries a much higher risk of severe disease and death than other infections where herd immunity was attempted before a vaccine was available. It is illogical to ignore public health and scientific evidence when so many lives are at stake,” the joint statement reads.
Some experts have also said that the declaration is inherently flawed because it assumes that someone who recovers from COVID-19 will be immune to reinfection.
“We just don’t really understand coronavirus immunology well enough to know whether this is going to be a minor, moderate or major concern,” Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told The Hill. “We have learned so much about COVID-19 over the course of the last seven months, and yet we have so much more to learn.”
Some studies have indicated that antibodies to SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19, wane months following infection, suggesting that the body does not maintain long-term immunity to the virus.
Other studies have suggested that such antibodies can last up to four months in patients after their initial infection.
Some experts have also pointed out that even in young and healthy people, the virus can have long-term consequences for the heart and lungs.