Radiologist scrutinized for 'herd immunity' COVID theory

By Brian Casey, AuntMinnie.com staff writer

September 1, 2020 -- A radiologist tapped by President Donald Trump as an advisor on the COVID-19 pandemic was the subject of an August 31 profile in the Washington Post. The article focused on a controversial "herd immunity" theory espoused by Dr. Scott Atlas to build up a resistance to the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Atlas is a neuroradiologist and had an appointment at Stanford University Medical Center from 1998 to 2012, during which he served as chief of neuroradiology. He is currently affiliated with the conservative think tank Hoover Institution, and he has authored a number of papers on healthcare reform and has served as an advisor to Republican presidential candidates.

Trump on August 10 appointed Atlas as an advisor to the White House on the COVID-19 pandemic, a move that some political observers saw as an attempt to create a counterweight within the administration to Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx, who sometimes have clashed with the president on the federal government's coronavirus response.

In its article, the Washington Post describes the "herd immunity" theory that Atlas espouses, in which the U.S. would lift social and economic restrictions imposed to control the spread of COVID-19 in favor of an approach more in line with that attempted by Sweden. Under this theory, vulnerable Americans such as those in nursing homes would be protected while the virus would be allowed to spread among healthier individuals. Eventually, enough of U.S. society would have immunity to SARS-CoV-2 infection that more vulnerable people would be protected, according to the theory.

The article notes that Atlas does not have a background in infectious diseases or epidemiology, and it quotes experts who believe that hundreds of thousands -- or even millions -- of Americans could die before the country could realistically achieve herd immunity. The article also points out that Sweden has experienced one of the highest mortality rates in Europe from COVID-19, while not avoiding any of the economic disruption from COVID-19-imposed social isolation.

The Washington Post article claims that Atlas meets with Trump almost on a daily basis -- "far more than any other health official." Additionally, the article notes that a number of recent Trump administration COVID-19 initiatives hew more to Atlas's ideas than those of Fauci or Birx. For example, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week updated its COVID-19 testing guidelines to downplay the need to test asymptomatic people.

The article concludes by quoting cardiologist Dr. Eric Topol of Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, CA. He describes Atlas as "another unreliable misinformation vector" who was recruited to crowd out "Fauci and the voice of reason."


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