Archive for the ‘HHS’ 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)

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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Posted in caputo, CDC, COVID-19, HHS, Infectious disease, pandemic, public health, science | Comments (0)

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)

After ranting about armed uprising, top Health Dept. spokesperson takes leave

September 16th, 2020
A man in a suit walks through an out-of-focus office building.

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)

Michael Caputo—the controversial spokesperson for the US Department of Health and Human Services, most recently known for watering down federal reports on COVID-19, railing against social distancing measures, and warning of left-wing “hit-squads” planning a post-election insurrection—has taken a 60-day leave of absence from the department.

Caputo “decided to take a leave of absence to focus on his health and the well-being of his family,” the HHS said Wednesday in a statement sent to Ars.

The statement also noted that Caputo’s scientific advisor, Paul Alexander—known recently for trying to muzzle top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci—is also on his way out.

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Posted in caputo, fauci, HHS, paul alexander, science, Trump | 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)

Political appointees demand ability to rewrite CDC case reports

September 12th, 2020
Image of a man holding his hand to his ear in order to hear better.

Enlarge / Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), listens during a House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus. Redfield may be finding himself trapped between scientists and political appointees. (credit: Getty Images)

Political appointees in the Department of Health and Human services are objecting to reports on the COVID-19 pandemic from the Centers for Disease Control, and are trying to exercise editorial control of future reports. That's the bottom line of an extensive report from Politico that was based on both internal emails and interviews with people in the organization. The problems apparently stem from the fact-based reports from the CDC running counter to the Trump administration's preferred narrative about the spread of the pandemic and the appropriate public health responses.

The CDC documents at issue are termed Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, which provide rapid summaries of the state of our knowledge about public health issues. Typically, they're the product of a CDC-backed investigation into a known issue; in the past, they've focused on things like outbreaks of food-borne illnesses. While they don't have the weight of peer-reviewed literature, they're widely considered to be scientifically reliable, and their rapid publication makes them a valuable resource for public health officials.

It's easy to see how the reports' accurate information could be viewed as counter to the preferred message of the Trump administration. Trump has made reopening schools a centerpiece of his pandemic policy, but CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly reports have described how SARS-CoV-2 can spread rapidly in a school-aged population, how young children can bring the disease home and pass it on to adults, and how children can suffer severe complications from the disease.

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Posted in CDC, COVID-19, HHS, Policy, SARS-CoV-2, science | Comments (0)

COVID-19 hospital data is a hot mess after feds take control

July 31st, 2020
Members of the medical staff treat a patient in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at the United Memorial Medical Center on July 28, 2020 in Houston, Texas. COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have spiked since Texas reopened, pushing intensive-care units to full capacity and sparking concerns about a surge in fatalities as the virus spreads.

Enlarge / Members of the medical staff treat a patient in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at the United Memorial Medical Center on July 28, 2020 in Houston, Texas. COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have spiked since Texas reopened, pushing intensive-care units to full capacity and sparking concerns about a surge in fatalities as the virus spreads. (credit: Getty | Go Nakamura)

As COVID-19 hospitalizations in the US approach the highest levels seen in the pandemic so far, national efforts to track patients and hospital resources remain in shambles after the federal government abruptly seized control of data collection earlier this month.

The Trump administration issued a directive to hospitals and states July 10, instructing them to stop submitting their daily COVID-19 hospital data to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—which has historically handled such public health data—and instead submit it to a new database in the hands of the Department of Health and Human Services. The change was ostensibly made to streamline federal data collection, which is critical for assessing the state of the pandemic and distributing needed resources, such as personal protective equipment and remdesivir, an antiviral drug shown to shorten COVID-19 recovery times.

Watchdogs and public health experts were immediately aghast by the switch to the HHS database, fearing the data would be manipulated for political reasons or hidden from public view all together. However, the real threat so far has been the administrative chaos. The switch took effect July 15, giving hospitals and states just days to adjust to the new data collection and submission process.

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Posted in CDC, COVID-19, data, database, healthcare IT, HHS, hospitalization, Infectious disease, IT, pandemic, public health, SARS-CoV-2, science | Comments (0)

CBP does end run around warrants, simply buys license plate-reader data

July 17th, 2020
The trunk of a black sedan is dotted with electronic devices.

Enlarge / A worker for repo firm Relentless Recovery in Cleveland, Ohio, backs a car equipped with automated license plate recognition cameras out of the garage before going out to scan for cars that need to be repossessed on April 30, 2018. (credit: Dustin Franz | The Washington Post | Getty Images)

US Customs and Border Protection can track everyone's cars all over the country thanks to massive troves of automated license plate scanner data, a new report reveals—and CBP didn't need to get a single warrant to do it. Instead, the agency did just what hundreds of other businesses and investigators do: straight-up purchase access to commercial databases.

CBP has been buying access to commercial automated license plate-reader (ALPR) databases since 2017, TechCrunch reports, and the agency says bluntly that there's no real way for any American to avoid having their movements tracked.

"CBP cannot provide timely notice of license plate reads obtained from various sources outside of its control," the agency wrote in its most recent privacy assessment (PDF). "The only way to opt out of such surveillance is to avoid the impacted area, which may pose significant hardships and be generally unrealistic."

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Posted in alpr, cbp, Customs and Border Patrol, customs and border protection, Department of Homeland Security, Fourth Amendment, HHS, license plate readers, Policy | Comments (0)

Head of US’ pandemic vaccine group says he was demoted in retaliation

April 22nd, 2020
Image of three men walking across a lawn.

Enlarge / Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar (right), shown here with Dr. Anthony Fauci and President Trump, has reportedly clashed with a key director in his agency. (credit: Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

Today, the former head of the agency responsible for rapid development of pandemic responses such as therapies and vaccines announced he would file a whistleblower complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Rick Bright, who had led the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority until this week, says he was transferred to a different position because he insisted on funding scientifically valid vaccine and therapy research over the objections of political appointees at HHS.

The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) has been a relatively obscure agency. It has a broad remit: to enable a rapid response to emerging biomedical threats. Many of its listed threats are focused on terrorism issues, like biological, chemical, and radioactive attacks. But it also handles the related issue of pandemics and emerging diseases, which makes it very relevant at the moment.

The responses BARDA is meant to foster include diagnostics, therapies, and vaccines, and it provides both funding to advance their development as well as technical consulting to help companies overcome bottlenecks in the development process. As such, it has played a key role in determining the government's response to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, and it has seen its budget tripled in a recent coronavirus response bill.

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Posted in barda, COVID-19, HHS, pandemic, Policy, politics, SARS-CoV-2, science, vaccine, Whistleblower | Comments (0)

Trump wants to import drugs from Canada. Canadians are furious

August 12th, 2019
US President Donald Trump speaks alongside Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar at the White House May 9, 2019 in Washington DC.

Enlarge / US President Donald Trump speaks alongside Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar at the White House May 9, 2019 in Washington DC. (credit: Getty | Alex Wong)

Canadians are in a kerfuffle over the Trump administration’s preliminary plan to allow Americans to import lower-cost prescription medications from Canada.

The plan was announced July 31 and is part of the administration’s long-sought effort to drag down the US’s skyrocketing drug prices. But it’s a long way from being a reality. Even if the plan does pan out, it will likely be years before regulators review, approve, and scale up efforts to import drugs.

Still, Canadians are infuriated by the idea and already brainstorming ways to toss it down the garburator, according to a report by health-news outlet STAT. Many fear that American importation would exacerbate current drug shortages in Canada.

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Posted in alex azar, Canada, drug pricing, fda, HHS, Import, science | Comments (0)