Former Trump appointee encouraged herd immunity strategy for Covid-19, internal emails reveal

Lane County's Deputy Public Health Officer Dr. Lisandra Guzman uses a swab to collect a sample for a Covid-19 test at a site Thursday at Centro de Fe Church. By Kristin Wilson, Daniella Diaz and Betsy Klein, CNN

(CNN) -- A former top Trump appointee urged health officials to adopt a "herd immunity" approach to Covid-19, according to internal emails obtained by the House Oversight Committee and shared with reporters.

Former Health and Human Services senior adviser Paul Alexander repeatedly urged his colleagues at HHS and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to pursue a herd immunity strategy amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

One example is when he wrote in an email on July 3 that Americans "must go on with life."

"So the bottom line is if it is more infectiouness [sic] now, the issue is who cares? If it is causing more cases in young, my word is who long as we make sensible decisions, and protect the elderely [sic] and nursing homes, we must go on with life....who cares if we test more and get more positive tests," he wrote.

In another email on July 4, Alexander wrote about people exposing themselves to the virus to establish 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."

Alexander has not yet responded to CNN's request for comment. An HHS spokesperson told CNN in a statement that Alexander's emails "absolutely did not shape department strategy."

"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," the spokesperson said, adding, "Herd immunity is not the policy of the United States COVID-19 response."

Politico first reported on the documents.

Such an approach — similar to what was pursued in Sweden — would mean that many people nationwide would have to get sick with the coronavirus in order to build up a natural immunity across communities. As the virus spreads and sickens people, many could die in the process.

About 2 million Americans could die in the effort to achieve herd immunity to the coronavirus, Dr. Leana Wen, emergency physician and CNN medical analyst, said in late August.

Dr. Scott Atlas, a former White House coronavirus task force member, denied in late October that the administration was pushing herd immunity.

"As we have specifically stated many times on the record and in print, we emphatically deny that the White House, the President, the administration, or anyone advising the President has pursued or advocated for any strategy of achieving herd immunity by letting the coronavirus infection spread through the community," he said at the time.

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