The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) called the herd immunity approach that some officials are taking for the COVID-19 pandemic “simply unethical” on Monday.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a briefing that health officials usually attempt to obtain herd immunity from a disease through vaccinating the public, such as with measles.
“Herd immunity is achieved by protecting people from a virus, not by exposing them to it,” he said, The Associated Press reported.
Some experts have pushed for communities to purposefully spread COVID-19 among the nonvulnerable population in order to reach herd immunity. These officials use the approach as an alternative to coronavirus shutdowns, which have negatively affected economies around the world.
Tedros, however, argued that scientists do not know enough about COVID-19 to know if herd immunity is possible.
He acknowledged that WHO officials suspect most people who contract COVID-19 develop an immune response, but it’s unknown how long the immunity lasts and how powerful it is. Overall, officials think less than 10 percent of the global population has any form of immunity to COVID-19, leaving most of the world still at risk.
Tedros also noted that WHO has recorded cases in which people are reinfected, which counters some immunity theories.
“Never in the history of public health has herd immunity been used as a strategy for responding to an outbreak,” Tedros said.
“We have some clues, but we don’t have the complete picture,” he said. “Allowing a dangerous virus that we don’t fully understand to run free is simply unethical.”
Worldwide, more than 37.6 million people have had confirmed COVID-19 cases, leading to more than 1 million deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Tedros’s comments follow reports that a top Trump health official met with doctors pushing the controversial herd immunity approach. Trump himself also declared on Sunday that he is now immune from coronavirus since he recovered from it.