Unions, scientists blast WH for politicizing COVID
- By FederalSoup Staff
- Sep 24, 2020
Scientific experts, health care associations, and a major federal employee union are joining together to fight and win on one of the toughest fronts in the war on COVID.
That front? The battle of information against disinformation.
Scores of these stakeholders are pushing back against what they—and many other observers across society—see as the increasingly unhealthy influence of politics on medical research and measures deployed to quell coronavirus, a disease that in just six months has claimed 200,000-plus lives nationwide.
Top scientific, health and other associations —from the American Academy of Family Physicians, to the American Medical Association, to Tribal Ground—co-signed a letter blasting the current state of science and health agency management by the Trump Administration. Their letter strongly implies—and many of its signatories elsewhere have flagged outright—executive branch power that engages in confusing and manipulative political intrusions into the operations and messaging of federal health-preserving agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control, the Food and Drug Administration and others.
“Decisions perceived as influenced by political priorities lower the public’s confidence in science, research, innovation, and public health efforts,” the letter states. “Already 78 percent of Americans worry the COVID-19 vaccine approval process is being driven by politics rather than science.”
Indeed, these days there are numerous sources of misleading health advice competing with legitimate science. The president himself—at coronavirus Task Force briefings and on Twitter—is one of the most frequent and powerful vectors of news which makes little reference to properly vetted evidence, scientifically accepted standards or recommendations issued by federal agencies. The best-known examples include his successful push for regulators to stay out of the way of wider use of hydroxychloroquine and, more recently, convalescent blood plasma. Just this week, the president claimed it was somehow “extremely political” of the FDA to renew its pledge to impose the toughest standards in vaccine approval—thereby again muddying the waters regarding the country’s health and safety.
Many government scientists and their union representatives regard the ongoing rhetorical invasions originating from the White House as a key problem, blunting the fight against COVID.
“The federal scientists, doctors, researchers and others who have dedicated their careers to public health are the key to ending the pandemic,” Tony Reardon, the president of the National Treasury Employees Union—which represents thousands of employees at FDA and a signatory to the letter—said in an emailed statement to FedSoup. “Their work is too important to be jeopardized by political agendas.”
Political intrusions on science are also alarming many in the nation’s health and science community. Susan Peschin, the president and CEO of the Alliance for Aging Research, a crucial organization behind the letter, put a fine point on the problem.
“Public perception of political influence in scientific decision-making is causing widespread confusion and distrust,” Peschin said in a release. “We call on our federal health agency leaders to be straight with policymakers and the public about what lies ahead in the fight against COVID-19, without sugarcoating or political spin.”
“As our letter states, ‘stand strong, and we will join with you to communicate that scientists are leading the way to ensure treatments and vaccines are safe and effective—and in turn—lead the nation to full recovery.’ The stakes couldn’t be higher,” she said.
Another signatory—the Infectious Diseases Society of America—a major health org that has been monitoring the situation, emphasized in a statement that minorities—including blacks and Hispanics—have been hit hardest. So, IDSA says, it’s an absolute necessity for federal regulators to not indulge political smokescreens, and to ensure that clinical trials of vaccines and therapeutics are objective and inclusive.
“Noting that communities that have suffered the highest rates of illness and poor outcomes from the virus will be critical to reach with a COVID-19 vaccine, … studies of vaccine candidates must include Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other populations, including older people, health care workers and people with chronic conditions,” the group said in a press release.
“Swift and successful uptake and access to a COVID-19 vaccine could offer a turning point in this pandemic,” IDSA said. “The integrity of the process leading to a vaccine that has been proven safe and effective through all standard processes will be paramount for public confidence and acceptance of the vaccine.”
The joint letter—entitled “Science—not politics—will lead us out of COVID-19”—was published in the Wall Street Journal and included about 80 signatories. Some bolded highlights:
--“To promote public health and economic recovery, government decisions must be based on evidence – not politics or individual interests.”
--”By clearly explaining the processes in place to ensure scientific rigor, federal agencies and government leaders will build the confidence and public trust necessary for America to meet the challenge.”
--“Evidence derived from clinical trials that meet FDA standards should drive assessment of which COVID-19 therapeutics are safe and effective.”
--“Routine, rapid, accurate and easy-to-access COVID-19 testing—followed by timely effort and efficient contact tracing—is needed to help prevent community spread.”
The letter concluded with a vow: “Stand strong and we will join with you to communicate that scientists are leading the way to ensure treatments and vaccines are safe and effective—and in turn—lead the nation to full recovery.”