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Public health organizations condemn herd immunity scheme for controlling spread of SARS-CoV-2

Date: Oct 14 2020

Contact: APHA Media Relations, Rhea Farberman, TFAH

Great Barrington Declaration is not grounded in science and is dangerous

(Washington, DC) – SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has infected at least 7.8 million people in the United States and 38 million worldwide. It has led to over 215,000 deaths domestically, and more than 1 million globally – with deaths continuing to climb.

If followed, the recommendations in the Great Barrington Declaration would haphazardly and unnecessarily sacrifices lives. The declaration is not a strategy, it is a political statement. It ignores sound public health expertise. It preys on a frustrated populace. Instead of selling false hope that will predictably backfire, we must focus on how to manage this pandemic in a safe, responsible and equitable way.

The suggestions put forth by the Great Barrington Declaration are NOT based in science.

  • There is no evidence that we are even remotely close to herd immunity. To the contrary, experts believe that 85-90% of the U.S. population is still at risk of contracting SARS-CoV-2. Herd immunity is achieved when the virus stops circulating because a large segment of the population has already been infected. Letting Americans get sick, rather than focusing on proven methods to prevent infections, could lead to hundreds of thousands of preventable illnesses and deaths. It would also add greater risk in communities of color, which have already experienced disproportionate impacts of the pandemic.
  • The declaration ignores what are our best tools to fight the virus, i.e. wearing masks, physical distancing, hand-washing, avoiding large crowds, strategic testing, rapid isolation of infected people and supportive quarantine for people who need to isolate.
  • We have seen the failure of the herd immunity experiment in nations such as Sweden, which has the highest mortality rate among Nordic countries.  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.

Combatting the pandemic with lockdowns or full reopening is not a binary, either/or choice. We need to embrace common sense public health practices that allow for a safe reopening of the economy and a return to in-person work and learning while also using proven strategies to reduce the spread of the virus.

The declaration suggests a so-called focused protection approach. It suggests allowing the virus to spread unchecked among young people to create herd immunity in the entire population. This notion is dangerous because it puts the entire population, particularly the most vulnerable, at risk. Young people are not all healthy, and they don’t live in vacuums. They interact with family members, co-workers and neighbors. Inviting increased rates of COVID-19 in young people will lead to increased infection rates among all Americans.

Public health guidance and requirements related to masking and physical distancing are not an impediment to normalcy – they are the path to a new normal. The goal is both public health safety and economic security; the two are not in conflict with one another, they are dependent on each other. We need to focus our efforts on the development and implementation of a national, science-based and ethical pandemic disease-control strategy.

The pandemic has created serious hardships on families’ economic security and on Americans' mental health and well-being. What we need is a coordinated and robust national response including mask use, hand hygiene and physical distancing, while also ensuring social supports for those most vulnerable, including physical and mental health, and social factors. What we do not need are wrong-headed proposals masquerading as science.

This statement was authored by:

Trust for America’s Health
American Public Health Association
Big Cities Health Coalition
American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare
Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology
Association of Public Health Laboratories
Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health
De Beaumont Foundation
Johns Hopkins Center for Public Security of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health
National Association of County Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities Directors
National Association of County and City Health Officials
National Association for Rural Mental Health
National Network of Public Health Institutes
Prevention Institute
Public Health Institute
Resolve to Save Lives
Well Being Trust


The American Public Health Association champions the health of all people and all communities. We are the only organization that combines a nearly 150-year perspective, a broad-based member community and the ability to influence federal policy to improve the public’s health. Learn more at www.apha.org.