Political appointees at the Department of Health and Human Services have sought to change, delay and prevent the release of reports about the coronavirus by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention because they were viewed as undermining President Trump’s message that the pandemic is under control.
Michael Caputo, the top HHS spokesman, said in an interview Saturday that he and one of his advisers have been seeking greater scrutiny of the CDC’s weekly scientific dispatches, known as the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, for the past 3½ months. The adviser, Paul Alexander, has sent repeated emails to the CDC seeking changes and demanding that the reports be halted until he could make edits.
MMWRs are written by career experts for scientists and public health specialists and are considered among the most authoritative public health reports because they provide evidence-based information on a range of health topics. The reports are independent scientific publications that undergo rigorous vetting, often with multiple drafts to check data and methodology. The reports are closely held; few individuals at the CDC have access until just before publication.
The CDC editorial staff that produces the MMWRs typically sends one-paragraph summaries to HHS and other CDC officials a few days before publication.
One CDC report that drew particular scrutiny was on hydroxychloroquine. The MMWR urged clinicians to follow long-accepted prescribing guidelines for the malaria drug. Trump favored the drug as a coronavirus treatment despite scant evidence. The CDC was concerned the drug was potentially being misused to treat covid-19, the illness caused by the virus, and affecting supplies of the medication to treat conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
“Current data on treatment and pre- or postexposure prophylaxis for COVID-19 indicate that the potential benefits of these drugs do not appear to outweigh their risks,” the report said.
The report had been delayed for weeks, according to a former administration official with direct knowledge of the efforts.
The tone of Alexander’s emails is harsh, this person said, because the CDC ignored his requests. In one email, Alexander wrote to CDC Director Robert Redfield asking that the agency modify two already published reports that Alexander said mistakenly inflated the risks of coronavirus to children and undermined Trump’s push to reopen schools.
“CDC to me appears to be writing hit pieces on the administration,” Alexander wrote in an email. “CDC tried to report as if once kids get together, there will be spread and this will impact school reopening. … Very misleading by CDC and shame on them. Their aim is clear.”
The interference by HHS political appointees in the MMWR process has infuriated career scientists, who have been frustrated for months over the inability to allow scientists to fully share and explain information.
Do you remember when Trump suggested injecting bleach as protection against the virus?
Doonesbury reminded us this morning that injecting of bleach CAN BE A MURDER WEAPON:
LUFKIN, Texas (AP) -- A former Texas nurse convicted of killing five dialysis patients by injecting them with bleach should spend the rest of her life in prison with no chance of parole, jurors who earlier convicted the woman of capital murder said Monday.
Kimberly Saenz was convicted in April of 2012 of killing the patients at a clinic run by Denver-based health care giant DaVita Inc. She also received three 20-year terms for aggravated assault in the cases of five other patients who were deliberately injured.
Jurors deliberated about 45 minutes before returning with their decision on the punishment. They also could have recommended that Saenz receive the death penalty.