Clyburn, Raskin Demand Secretary Azar Clarify Testimony on Herd Immunity

October 9, 2020
Press Release
After Disavowing Herd Immunity Before Congress, Azar Publicly Praised it as ‘Reinforcement’ of Administration’s Strategy

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Today, Rep. James E. Clyburn, Chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, and Rep. Jamie Raskin sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar requesting that he clarify whether the Trump Administration is responding to the coronavirus crisis with a herd immunity “strategy”.  Public health experts have warned this approach could lead to the death of more than two million Americans.

“We are concerned that you may have provided misleading testimony during the Select Subcommittee’s October 2, 2020, hearing with respect to whether the Trump Administration is pursuing a herd immunity strategy to combat the coronavirus,” the Members wrote.  “In your testimony, you denied that the Trump Administration is pursuing such a ‘strategy,’ but just three days later you met with four outspoken proponents of this approach.  You wrote that they provided a ‘strong reinforcement of the Trump Administration’s strategy.’  Afterward, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) ‘refused to comment’ on ‘whether the Trump administration is shifting to a herd immunity strategy.’”  

During the Select Subcommittee’s October 2 hearing on HHS’s response to the coronavirus crisis, Rep. Raskin asked Secretary Azar whether he supported the herd immunity strategy advocated by President rump, White House advisor Scott Atlas, and former HHS appointee Paul Alexander.  Secretary Azar replied:  “Herd immunity is not the strategy of the U.S. government with regard to coronavirus.”

However, on October 5, Secretary Azar met with Dr. Atlas and three other outspoken proponents of pursuing a herd immunity strategy in response to the coronavirus pandemic—an extreme view has been widely rejected by the vast majority of public health experts.  Following the meeting, Secretary Azar tweeted that the meeting provided “strong reinforcement” of the Administration’s strategy, and HHS has refused to comment on whether the Administration is pursuing herd immunity.

Today’s letter continued:  “Scientists estimate that approximately 70 percent of Americans—more than 200 million people—would need to be infected by the coronavirus to reach the herd immunity threshold absent a vaccine.  Such widespread transmission could lead to the deaths of between half a million and more than two million Americans.  Millions more would battle prolonged illnesses and profound disabilities as a result of infection with the coronavirus.”

On September 16, 2020, the Select Subcommittee found that the White House Coronavirus Task Force weakened its previous recommendations to states to require face masks, close bars and gyms, and take other steps proven effective at slowing the spread of the virus.  The Trump Administration also has refused to implement a national plan to contain the virus.

Today’s letter asked Secretary Azar to either reaffirm his October 2 testimony and disavow the herd immunity strategy or amend his testimony and explain why he provided misleading information to the Select Subcommittee.  The letter requested documents and information related to these issues by October 16, 2020.

Click here to read today’s letter to Secretary Azar.

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