In April 2020, at the height of the pandemic in Michigan, I began looking into Beaumont Health, at the time a highly regarded regional hospital system and the biggest one serving Metro Detroit. A local TV station reported that Beaumont had closed a hospital designated to cater exclusively to covid patients, but the company denied the story and discredited the reporter. A spokesman said the hospital had merely been “paused.”
I was a babe in the woods writing about hospitals, and I naively believed that healthcare PR differed from corporate PR because hospitals required the public’s trust, particularly during a pandemic. Arguing the hospital was “paused” rather than closed was deceptive PR spin. The Beaumont spokesman and his CEO boss quickly educated me that healthcare wasn’t the ethically minded business I perceived. Issuing false or deceptive statements I fast learned was a routine practice at Beaumont.
Turns out, I wasn’t alone in my belief that public trust was critical in public health management. Dr. Martin Cetron, director of global migration and quarantine for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, years ago coined the phrase “bankruptcy of trust” when he presciently warned about the danger of the public losing trust in the government, allowing denials and falsehoods to spread faster than disease. As reported by ProPublica, Cetron came to appreciate the importance of public trust during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Liberia, when soldiers cordoned off frightened and angry residents. Cetron learned that controlling the pandemic required public trust, not just technical expertise.
The CDC developed an extensive manual to ensure public trust during a pandemic or other catastrophe, which included making certain politicians were never the ones delivering news about a healthcare emergency. “If you have a politician on the stage, there’s a very real risk that half the nation is going to do the opposite of what they say,” Richard Besser, a former acting CDC director, told the New Yorker.
Donald Trump, Andrew Cuomo, and others chose not to follow the manual, and the CDC’s credibility quickly began to fade. The Biden Administration finished the job.
In a February 14 commentary published in Tablet, an online publication focused on news, ideas, and Jewish culture, Dr. Vinay Prasad, an associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco, called out CDC director and Biden appointee Rochelle Walensky for a series of lies and deceptions the agency has made under her watch. It would be an injustice to paraphrase Prasad, so here’s a sampling of his commentary:
Throughout this pandemic, the CDC has been a poor steward of that balance, pushing a series of scientific results that are severely deficient. This research is plagued with classic errors and biases, and does not support the press-released conclusions that often follow. In all cases, the papers are uniquely timed to further political goals and objectives; as such, these papers appear more as propaganda than as science. The CDC’s use of this technique has severely damaged their reputation and helped lead to a growing divide in trust in science by political party. Science now risks entering a death spiral in which it will increasingly fragment into subsidiary verticals of political parties. As a society, we cannot afford to allow this to occur. Impartial, honest appraisal is needed now more than ever, but it is unclear how we can achieve it.
One lie cited by Prasad was Walensky telling ABC News on December 10 that the agency had seen no adverse events about vaccine recipients and denied seeing any cases of myocarditis among vaccinated children between five and 11. Prasad linked to CDC data that showed on December 10 the CDC knew of at least eight cases of myocarditis within that age group.
Prasad discredited this widely reported CDC study purportedly showing that children 18 and younger diagnosed with covid are 2.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes. Prasad said the study was flawed for several reasons, including failure to adjust for body mass index, which is a covid risk factor. Prasad isn’t alone questioning the study. Jeffrey Flier, the former dean of Harvard Medical School, told the New York Times that “the CDC erred in taking a preliminary and potentially erroneous association and tweeting it to specifically create alarm in parents.”
The CDC continues to push for boosters for 12- to 15- year-olds despite WHO guidance and that of other countries, including Canada. “When it comes to vaccination, the CDC has a single policy: All Americans should get three doses, regardless of age or medical conditions,” Prasad said. “This is not science as such, but science as political propaganda.”
In a December commentary in the respected trade journal Stat, Prasad expressed concerns about NIH director Francis Collins and White House adviser Anthony Fauci ostensibly planning orchestrated attempts to silence scientists who disagreed with government policy. Emails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that Collins dismissed as “fringe epidemiologists” scientists at Harvard, Stanford, Oxford and a Nobel Prize recipient who publicly challenged lockdown measures.
“Collins’s day job does not make him arbiter of scientific truth, the Pope for all scientists. On questions of unprecedented pandemic policy, he is surely entitled to his opinion — as we all are — but his is just one opinion of many,” Prasad said.
Prasad’s criticisms of Walensky and the CDC aren’t news to a sizeable community on LinkedIn who for more than a year have been posting links to studies and commentaries critical of the Biden Administration’s policies and CDC studies and claims, only to be censored. I expect more commentaries in the weeks ahead calling out government lies and the media’s complicit role in spreading them because more physicians are daring to speak out.
Unfortunately, it’s not only the CDC suffering a bankruptcy of trust. Polls show that most Americans disapprove of Biden’s management of the pandemic. If, and when, the truth becomes more widely known, I fear the consequences.
I’m always mindful of a comment attributed to Dr. Roger Hodkinson, a Canadian pathologist, who early on questioned government covid policies and mandates and the silencing of those who questioned them: “When the history of this (covid) madness is written, there will be hundreds of books on it over the next few years, reputations will be slaughtered. There will be blood in the gutter because of the obvious insanity of what’s happening on a scale that’s never been seen before.”
Rochelle Walensky being held to account is only the beginning.