Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar speaks during a Home Remedies Subcommittee hearing in Washington February 26, 2020.
Amanda Voisard | Reuters
It is not the government's plan to circulate the coronavirus uncontrollably through the U.S. population in order to achieve herd immunity, said Minister of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, despite reports that the White House coronavirus advisor, Dr. Scott Atlas who pushed the idea.
"Herd immunity is not the US government's strategy for coronavirus," Azar responded to a question from Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., Friday during a US House Select Select subcommittee on the coronavirus hearing. Crisis.
"We could slow herd transmission, as we may have seen in the New York area and other concentrated areas. Our mission is to reduce deaths, protect those at risk, and keep coronavirus cases as low as possible" added Azar.
Herd immunity occurs when a large section of the population becomes immune to the coronavirus, making it difficult to spread, according to the Mayo Clinic. This can be done through natural infections – when enough people are exposed to the disease and develop antibodies to it – and through vaccination.
Most scientists believe that 60% to 80% of the population must be vaccinated or have natural antibodies to achieve herd immunity, say global health experts. Dr. However, Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told lawmakers during a hearing in late September that much of the country's population – more than 90% – remains susceptible to infection, citing current ones Studies.
White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci also said that if the coronavirus spread uncontrollably to infect enough people to achieve herd immunity, it would result in an "enormous" death toll.
Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, pushed back Republican Senator Rand Paul's recent claim that New York has achieved adequate herd immunity to the coronavirus and is "no longer a pandemic."
Fauci said around 22% of New York City residents were likely exposed to the coronavirus, below the amount needed for herd immunity.
"You've been hit very hard. You made some mistakes. Now if you look at what's going on, the things that are going on in New York to get your test positivity of 1% or less are due to for them to look at the guidelines, that we from the task force put together the four or five things of the masks, social distancing, more outside than inside to avoid the crowds and wash hands, "Fauci said.
"If everyone becomes infected, despite the relatively high percentage of people without symptoms … many people will die," Fauci said on Aug. 13.
An HHS spokesperson was not immediately available for CNBC's investigation to clarify Azar's comments on New York, which may have noted a "herd transmission slowdown".
Atlas, a neuroradiologist who recently joined the White House's coronavirus pandemic response team, has publicly disagreed with Redfield's remarks about how many people remain at risk to the virus, which Fauci has termed "extraordinarily inappropriate".
"You can't assume we're anywhere near herd immunity right now in the US," said Fauci. "We still have a long way to go to get herd immunity."
– CNBC's Will Feuer contributed to this report.