The calls and text messages are relentless. On the other end are doctors and scientists at the top levels of the NIH, FDA and CDC. They are variously frustrated, exasperated and alarmed about the direction of the agencies to which they have devoted their careers.
“It’s like a horror movie I’m being forced to watch and I can’t close my eyes,” one senior FDA official lamented. “People are getting bad advice and we can’t say anything.”
That particular FDA doctor was referring to two recent developments inside the agency. First, how, with no solid clinical data, the agency authorized Covid vaccines for infants and toddlers, including those who already had Covid. And second, the fact that just months before, the FDA bypassed their external experts to authorize booster shots for young children.
That doctor is hardly alone.
At the NIH, doctors and scientists complain to us about low morale and lower staffing: The NIH’s Vaccine Research Center has had many of its senior scientists leave over the last year, including the director, deputy director and chief medical officer. “They have no leadership right now. Suddenly there’s an enormous number of jobs opening up at the highest level positions,” one NIH scientist told us. (The people who spoke to us would only agree to be quoted anonymously, citing fear of professional repercussions.)
The CDC has experienced a similar exodus. “There’s been a large amount of turnover. Morale is low,” one high level official at the CDC told us. “Things have become so political, so what are we there for?” Another CDC scientist told us: “I used to be proud to tell people I work at the CDC. Now I’m embarrassed.”
Why are they embarrassed? In short, bad science.
The longer answer: that the heads of their agencies are using weak or flawed data to make critically important public health decisions. That such decisions are being driven by what’s politically palatable to people in Washington or to the Biden administration. And that they have a myopic focus on one virus instead of overall health.
Nowhere has this problem been clearer—or the stakes higher—than on official public health policy regarding children and Covid.
It is statistically impossible for everyone who works inside of our health agencies to have 100% agreement about such a new and knotty subject. The fact that there is no public dissent or debate can only be explained by the fact that they are—or at least feel that they are—being muzzled.
It is an ancient, moral requirement of our profession to speak up when we believe questionable treatments are being proposed. It is also good for the public. Imagine, for example, a world in which those scientists who suggested that masking for children and school lockdowns were worse for public health were not smeared but instead debated?
The official public health response to Covid has undermined the public’s belief in public health itself. This is a terrible outcome with potentially disastrous consequences. For one thing, because of these sloppy and politicized policies, we run the risk of parents rejecting routine vaccines for their children—ones we know are safe, effective and life-saving.
The leaders of the CDC, the FDA and the NIH should welcome internal discussion—even dissension—based on the evidence. Silencing physicians is not “following the science.” Less absolutism and more humility by the men and women running our public health agencies would go a long way in rebuilding public trust.
According to a study recently published in the Paediatric Infectious Disease Journal, the risk of COVID-19 to children is truly minuscule. The study tracks the outcomes for Icelandic children with a positive COVID-19 test, covering all the children who tested positive during the study period. It concludes that out of the 1,749 children tracked, none had severe symptoms and no child needed hospitalisation. A fifth of the children showed no symptoms.
Bowing to demands from the Sanders-Warren progressives, the administration put in motion a New-Deal-like spending plan that included four major new entitlement programs: federalized prekindergarten and child care, an expanded child tax credit, paid family and medical leave, and two free years of community college.
With the Senate divided 50-50, Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona resolutely opposed the legislation. Mr. Manchin warned his party repeatedly that the new spending would produce inflation and that expunging fossil fuels would be a mistake.
The whole of the Democratic Party, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, chose to blow by all these red flags. Inflation is today 9.1%, not least because of the party consensus—actually a mania—to abolish fossil-fuel production.