Archive for the ‘CDC’ Category

Santas scrooged by Trump admin after bizarre vaccine deal goes south

October 26th, 2020
Even Santas are not safe during the pandemic.

Enlarge / Even Santas are not safe during the pandemic. (credit: Getty | Kristy O'Connor)

The Department of Health and Human Services has abandoned a deal to vaccinate Santa Claus performers as part of a $250-million taxpayer-funded public relations blitz, The Wall Street Journal reports.

According to the nixed Santa plan, performers would have received special early access to a future vaccine against the pandemic coronavirus. In exchange, the Santa Clauses, Mrs. Clauses, and accompanying elves would have promoted the vaccine to the public and participated in regional holiday events organized by the Trump administration.

Beginning to look a lot like chaos

The deal was reportedly gifted from the troubled mind of Michael Caputo, the HHS spokesperson installed by the White House in April. Caputo had no background in health when he took the position. Instead, he was reportedly placed in the department as a way for the Trump administration to assert more control over HHS Secretary Alex Azar. Caputo is a Trump loyalist, protégé of Roger Stone, and former Moscow-based political adviser who worked on public relations for Vladimir Putin.

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Posted in alex azar, caputo, CDC, Christmas, coronavirus, COVID-19, HHS, public health, santa claus, science, vaccines | Comments (0)

How the Trump admin devastated the CDC—and continues to cripple it

October 16th, 2020
A serious man in a business suit grimaces.

Enlarge / CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield. (credit: Getty | Alex Edelman)

The CDC has been neutered, shamed, and blamed amid the novel coronavirus pandemic and global crisis. From internal missteps that bungled the country’s rollout of diagnostic testing to blatant political interference and strong-arming on critical public health guidance, the CDC has gone from the world’s premier public health agency to a silenced, overridden, distrusted afterthought in the US response—an agency stripped of its ability to collect even basic health data from hospitals during a raging pandemic.

The heavy blows to the agency’s reputation and role have been well documented throughout the pandemic. President Trump and his administration have openly undermined the agency and, behind the scenes, attacked it while overriding expert public health advice on testing, school reopening, and the handling of outbreaks on cruise ships, among other things.

But while the broad strokes of the agency’s undoing were noted in real time, a set of new investigations and reports offers new details. In a sweeping investigative report by ProPublica, three journalists retraced a number of events, digging up emails, heated exchanges, and alarm within the agency. For instance, it provides fresh insight into how a single CDC researcher valiantly worked to develop diagnostic tests for the novel coronavirus, only to fumble, producing tests contaminated with genetic sequences of the virus. That contamination produced false positive results in public health labs around the country, rendering the tests useless and losing precious time to get ahead of the disease's spread.

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Posted in birx, CDC, COVID-19, pandemic, public health, redfield, science, trump administration | Comments (0)

White House informally endorses letting pandemic spread unchecked

October 14th, 2020
Image of the White House.

Enlarge / Nobody from the White House went on record as supporting herd immunity. (credit: Congressional Budget Offic)

On Monday, the White House hosted a pandemic-focused call for the press "on background"—intended to provide a window into the administration's thinking, but not to provide quotes that could be attributed to any government official. During the call, the unspecified White House officials touted a document supporting the idea of herd immunity as a plan to control the pandemic, saying it reflected the administration's thinking.

The document, called the Great Barrington Declaration, was prepared by a libertarian think tank with the assistance of a handful of scientists who have been pushing the idea that COVID-19 isn't much of a threat. And it has attracted enough attention that the World Health Organization decided to address it. The result severely undercut whatever the White House intended to accomplish.

"Never in the history of public health has herd immunity been used as a strategy for responding to an outbreak, let alone a pandemic," the WHO's Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. "It's scientifically and ethically problematic."

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Posted in CDC, COVID-19, pandemic, Policy, SARS-CoV-2, science, Trump, trump administration, White House, WHO | Comments (0)

Redfield urged to leave CDC in blaze of glory—or forever be Trump’s toady

October 7th, 2020
A serious man in a business suit grimaces.

Enlarge / CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield. (credit: Getty | Alex Edelman)

Renowned public health expert and former head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention William Foege penned a private letter to current director Robert Redfield last month. It included a desperate plea: break free of the Trump administration’s political meddling, right the CDC’s course, and brace for a fiery end.

“The White House will, of course, respond with fury,” Dr. Foege wrote of his plan, first made public by USA Today Tuesday. “But you will have right on your side. Like Martin Luther, you can say, ‘Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.’” Peacefully resigning will not be enough to force change, Foege added. “When they fire you, this will be a multi-week story and you can hold your head high.”

Foege, a former CDC director under the Carter and Reagan administrations, has not been a vocal critic of the Trump administration. But, in his letter to Dr. Redfield, he didn’t hold back on his acerbic take of how the White House had handled the pandemic while damaging and sidelining the CDC in the process.

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Posted in CDC, COVID-19, foege, Infectious disease, pandemic, public health, robert redfield, SARS-CoV-2, science, Trump | Comments (0)

Celebs back away from Trump admin.’s $300M COVID-19 ad campaign

September 30th, 2020
The shadow of a reporter with a microphone falls on the wall behind a man in a suit.

Enlarge / Former Trump campaign official Michael Caputo arrives at the Hart Senate Office building to be interviewed by Senate Intelligence Committee staffers on May 1, 2018 in Washington, DC. (credit: Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

The Trump administration's more-than-$300-million "public advertising and awareness campaign" on the COVID-19 pandemic is floundering as A-list celebrities back away and staff at the Department of Health and Human Services express opposition, according to reporting by Politico.

The campaign—organized by former Trump campaign official Michael Caputo—was intended to "defeat despair" and bolster confidence in the Trump administration's response to the pandemic. A central feature of the campaign would be video interviews between celebrities and administration officials, who would discuss the pandemic and the federal response.

To pull it off, Caputo and his team requisitioned $300 million that Congress had previously budgeted for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They also made a list of more than 30 big-name celebrities that they hoped to appear in the Health Department's videos, including Taylor Swift, Justin Timberlake, Lady Gaga, Billy Joel, Britney Spears, Bruno Mars, Bon Jovi, and Madonna.

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Trump admin. overrules CDC director on extending ban on cruises

September 30th, 2020
A man in a suit and face mask stands outside with his arms folded.

Enlarge / Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), attends an event about coronavirus vaccine development in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 15, 2020, in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty | Drew Angerer)

Trump administration officials have once again sidelined the head of the country’s leading public health agency while crafting public health policy. This time, officials torpedoed a plan to extend the “no-sail” order on cruise ships until next year.

Cruise ships were initial hotbeds of coronavirus transmission at the start of the global pandemic, which is still far from under control in the United States. Mass outbreaks on the tightly-packed, social vessels forced the cruise industry to shut down in March, and the Centers for Disease Control issued a no-sail order that is set to expire today, Wednesday, September 30.

In a meeting in the White House Situation Room Tuesday, CDC Director Robert Redfield floated a recommendation to extend the no-sail order until February 2021, according to a report by Axios. But Vice President Mike Pence, who chaired the meeting, told Redfield that the administration will be setting a different course.

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Posted in CDC, COVID-19, cruise ship, Infectious disease, outbreak, public health, SARS-CoV-2, science | Comments (0)

Trump may reject FDA’s stricter regulations for COVID-19 vaccine

September 24th, 2020
The Food and Drug Administration headquarters in White Oak, Maryland.

Enlarge / The Food and Drug Administration headquarters in White Oak, Maryland. (credit: Getty | Congressional Quarterly)

President Donald Trump on Wednesday said he may reject the Food and Drug Administration’s plan to issue stricter safety and efficacy standards for COVID-19 vaccines, calling the plan a “political move.”

The new standards are aimed at bolstering public confidence in the FDA and its vaccine review process, which has been severely damaged by many reports of political meddling and interference by the Trump administration. Those reports include claims that the FDA was pressured by the White House into allowing COVID-19 patients to be treated with unproven blood plasma and the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, which was personally touted by Trump. (The authorization of hydroxychloroquine was later revoked by the FDA.) Just last week, Trump’s secretary of health and human services, Alex Azar, revoked the FDA’s authority to sign new regulations.

Trump himself has continually undercut federal public health guidance and government scientists, particularly Robert Redfield, his director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Trump has also repeatedly pushed for a pre-election release of a vaccine, though experts have, in turn, repeatedly pointed out that such a speedy release is nearly impossible based on the timeline of the clinical trials underway and the amount of data needed to make even preliminary evaluations of safety and efficacy.

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Posted in CDC, clinical trials, COVID-19, fda, Infectious disease, pandemic, public health, science, Trump, vaccine | Comments (0)

CDC dramatically restores COVID-19 testing advice marred by political meddling

September 18th, 2020
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters stands in Atlanta, Georgia, US, on Saturday, March 14, 2020. As the novel coronavirus has spread in the US, the CDC is under increasing heat to defend a shaky rollout of crucial testing kits. Photographer: Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Enlarge / The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters stands in Atlanta, Georgia, US, on Saturday, March 14, 2020. As the novel coronavirus has spread in the US, the CDC is under increasing heat to defend a shaky rollout of crucial testing kits. Photographer: Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Images (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

In a dramatic move, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday restored its recommendation to test people who have been exposed to the pandemic coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, but don’t have symptoms—erasing politically motivated changes made by members of the Trump administration without the support or input of CDC scientists.

The CDC had—until August 24—always recommended testing for all people who have had close contact (within 6 feet for 15 minutes or more) with someone infected with SARS-CoV-2, regardless of symptoms. The CDC stated clearly that this is “important” and should be done quickly “because of the potential for asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission,” which is largely thought to drive the pandemic.

But the guidance was abruptly and quietly changed August 24 to say that exposed people who do not have symptoms “do not necessarily need a test.”

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White House-CDC tensions explode as Trump contradicts its leadership

September 17th, 2020
Image of President Trump speaking from behind a lectern.

Enlarge / US President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in which he frequently contradicted his own health experts. (credit: Bloomberg/Getty Images)

There was good news and then bad news for public health expertise yesterday. In the wake of increasingly unhinged behavior from a President Trump-appointed communications director at the US Department of Health and Human Services, he and one of his key appointees have left their posts—one for two months, one permanently. But any hopes that science might resume being the main driver of US health policy were short-lived. Earlier in the day, CDC head Robert Redfield and other Health and Human Services officials testified before a Senate panel. By the evening, the president himself was calling his own CDC director mistaken about everything from mask use to the schedule of vaccine availability.

By the end of the day, Redfield was tweeting statements that balanced ambiguity against seeming to support Trump's view.

A backdrop of turmoil

A constant background of tension has existed between the Trump administration (which wants the country to return to normal operations despite the medical consequences) and public health officials (who actually want to protect the public's health). But several things have driven those tensions into the open recently, starting with last week's revelation that political appointees were attempting to interfere with reports from career scientists at the CDC. That issue was seemingly resolved in the CDC's favor, as a key administration figure in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Michael Caputo, took a two-month medical leave after making a video in which he spoke of armed uprisings and conspiratorial cabals of CDC scientists.

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Posted in CDC, COVID-19, HHS, masks, Policy, redfield, science, testing, Trump, vaccine | Comments (0)

Bonkers federal podcast downplays COVID-19, blasts health restrictions

September 15th, 2020
Former Trump campaign official Michael Caputo arrives at the Hart Senate Office building to be interviewed by Senate Intelligence Committee staffers, on May 1, 2018 in Washington, DC.

Enlarge / Former Trump campaign official Michael Caputo arrives at the Hart Senate Office building to be interviewed by Senate Intelligence Committee staffers, on May 1, 2018 in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty | Mark Wilson)

In a stunning podcast released by the Department of Health and Human Services, two top officials at the department repeatedly downplayed the COVID-19 pandemic, railed against mitigation efforts, called closures of in-person schooling “nonsense,” and said US journalists do not “[give] a damn about public health information.”

The podcast, released on the HHS website September 11, is part of a series hosted by Michael Caputo, who currently holds the title of HHS assistant secretary of public affairs. Though Caputo has no background in health care, the White House installed him in the department in April—a move reportedly made to assert more White House control over HHS Secretary Alex Azar. Caputo is a longtime Trump loyalist and former campaign official. He got his start as a protégé of Roger Stone and later worked as a Moscow-based advisor to Boris Yeltsin and did public relations work for Vladimir Putin.

Learning curve

Caputo has most recently made headlines for working to interfere with and alter scientific reports on COVID-19 prepared by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The meddling was intended to make reports more in line with messaging from Trump, who has admitted to downplaying the pandemic. Caputo also raised eyebrows with a Facebook live video, reported by The New York Times Monday, in which, without evidence, he accused government scientists of engaging in “sedition” and claimed that the CDC is harboring a “resistance unit.” He also spoke of long “shadows” in his DC apartment and said left-wing “hit-squads” were preparing for armed insurrection after the election.

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Posted in alex azar, caputo, CDC, coronavirus, HHS, McCance-Katz, pandemic, public health, SAMHSA, SARS-CoV-2, science | Comments (0)