Fox News personalities are rallying around a White House-supported declaration that calls for “herd immunity” approach to the coronavirus pandemic, the deeply flawed idea that the virus should be intentionally spread widely in the population.
A concept based in vaccinology, herd immunity dictates that a population can become immune to a disease through mass vaccination. The term has been perverted and embraced by right-wing media, President Donald Trump, and other critics of public health measures like social distancing and mask-wearing to mean that a population ought to achieve widespread immunity from the novel coronavirus through natural infection. In other words, they’re proposing to let COVID-19 spread unrestricted through the population.
But little is known about whether people who have survived the virus are fully protected from further infection, and the United States’ experience from this past summer showed that young people who disregarded social distancing spread the virus among more vulnerable populations. According to World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, “Never in the history of public health has herd immunity been used as a strategy for responding to an outbreak, let alone a pandemic. It is scientifically and ethically problematic. … Letting the virus circulate unchecked therefore means allowing unnecessary infections, suffering and death.”
Disregarding science and the millions of lives on the line, the Trump administration and its allies on Fox have signaled their support for an online movement called the “Great Barrington Declaration.” Developed by a libertarian think tank, the document calls for leaders to embrace herd immunity through what it calls “focused protection,” claiming, “The most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity, is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk.”
The document contained clearly fake signatories like “Dr. Johnny Bananas” and an employee of the “university of your mum” before the names were removed from the site. According to The New York Times, two senior Trump administration officials touted the declaration during a call with reporters after White House officials met with its authors last week. Following their meeting with the Trump administration, Great Barrington authors Drs. Martin Kulldorff, Sunetra Gupta, and Jay Bhattacharya appeared on Fox’s The Ingraham Angle.
Prolific COVID-19 misinformer Laura Ingraham has led the way on Fox’s embrace of the herd immunity touted by the Great Barrington Declaration. On October 5, she hosted the document’s authors after they met with the White House. Ingraham said, “I’m in awe of your expertise and your courage in speaking out,” and she declared them “all brilliant, much smarter than most politicians.” She also said the Great Barrington strategy is “essentially … what the administration has been doing.” During the appearance, Kulldorff touted the newly released document and connected the proposed approach to the views of Trump’s hand-picked right-wing media coronavirus “adviser” Scott Atlas. Bhattacharya said that “denying herd immunity is like denying gravity. Gravity exists and herd immunity exists.”
Since then, other Fox hosts have also picked up on the document and used it to push their talking points. During the October 12 episode of The Five, co-host Dagen McDowell demanded New York restaurants allow indoor dining, despite rising cases. She read from the Great Barrington Declaration, boasting that “thousands of scientists and medical professionals have signed” the document, and said that other COVID-19 mitigation efforts are “very shortsighted about the long-term impact.”
On October 13, Tucker Carlson hosted “COVID contrarian” and serial misinformer Alex Berenson, who lamented that the authors of the Great Barrington Declaration are being “tarred and feathered by other scientists,” even though they’ve been openly embraced by the Trump administration. During his appearance, Berenson also touted herd immunity.
And on October 14, Ingraham described herd immunity as outlined in the Great Barrington Declaration as “common sense anti-COVID measures” and mocked Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden for wearing masks.
This is not the first time the White House has embraced herd immunity. Trump adviser Scott Atlas, a radiologist from Stanford with no experience in epidemiology who is frequently seen downplaying the virus on Fox News, has previously pushed the president to take it up the dangerous strategy.
Now, Fox News personalities have again positively highlighted the unproven, unethical approach and praised the Trump White House’s embrace of it. Meanwhile, Dr. Anthony Fauci called the Great Barrington Declaration “ridiculous” and “if you talk to anybody who has any experience in epidemiology and infectious diseases, they will tell you that that is risky and you'll wind up with many more infections of vulnerable people, which will lead to hospitalizations and deaths. So I think that we just got to look that square in the eye and say it's nonsense.”
As COVID-19 cases rise at an alarming rate in the United States, Fox News continues to gamble with the lives of millions.