WASHINGTON, D.C. — On July 6, 2020, a bipartisan group of former government scientists, researchers, and public health professionals who have served as far back as the Nixon administration released a statement calling on the federal government to prioritize science over politics in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. The statement also urges Congress to provide more rigorous oversight of the pandemic response and to block any attempts at political interference in science-driven response efforts.
The statement’s distinguished signatories include individuals who have served in the government under Republican and Democratic administrations, such as Kathleen Sebelius, former Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services under President Obama; Christine Todd Whitman, former Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush; Dr. Julie Gerberding, former Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under President George W. Bush; Dr. Margaret Hamburg, former Commissioner for the Food and Drug Administration under President Obama; Dr. Luciana Borio, former Acting Chief Scientist for the Food and Drug Administration under Presidents Obama and Trump; Dr. Peter Lurie, former Associate Commissioner for the Food and Drug Administration under Presidents Obama and Trump; Dr. Gerald T. Keusch, former Associate Director for International Research and Director of the Fogarty International Center within the National Institutes of Health under Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush; Dr. Don Berwick, former Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under President Obama; and Dr. Ali Nouri, former advisor to Senators Jim Webb and Al Franken.
“If we continue to cast aside the scientific advice of our own experts, the consequences for the nation will be dire,” the statement’s signatories write. “Indeed, sidelining science has already cost lives, imperiled the safety of our loved ones, compromised our ability to safely re-open our businesses, schools, and places of worship, and endangered the health of our democracy itself.”
Former EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman, one of the statement’s signatories, adds, “With the United States in the grip of a global pandemic, government scientists must feel free to go where the research leads them and not fear retribution because of political agendas. Our country cannot afford it.”
As the spread of COVID-19 spikes again in parts of the country, the scientific and public health communities are speaking out to encourage their peers in government to continue countering misinformation and political pressure. The statement comes on the heels of mounting reports that the Trump administration has disregarded scientific expertise, while spreading misinformation to the American public, for short-term political gain.
Most recently, the vice president, who leads the Coronavirus Task Force, downplayed the increase in COVID-19 cases since certain states have reopened, much like the president initially downplayed the risk of the pandemic taking hold in the United States. The vice president also attended an indoor campaign event in Texas where a 100-member choir sang without masks, despite the CDC’s findings that singing spreads the disease. Meanwhile the president has urged officials to approve a vaccine on an accelerated timeline, despite the concerns of vaccine experts.
Previously, the president exhorted Americans to treat COVID-19 with unproven malaria drugs such as hydroxychloroquine, which has since been shown to have little to no benefit to COVID-19 patients, while nonetheless presents serious side-effects. He also suggested ingesting disinfectants as a possible treatment to explore. The administration, moreover, has spread the notion that the United States would have fewer COVID-19 cases if only it did less testing. And it has undermined the federal government’s efforts to accurately count COVID-19 deaths by raising unfounded suspicion about the methodology, presumably to lower the official death toll.
The statement reminds current government scientists and officials of the crucial role they play in maintaining scientific integrity and independence. It calls on them to stand as a “bulwark against the spread of misinformation and the diversion of public health policies and programs to suit political goals.”
“The scientists and public health officials in agencies like the CDC, FDA, and NIAID are answering the nation’s call to mitigate the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 crisis and help us take care of our loved ones,” says Dr. Luciana Borio, former Food and Drug Administration Acting Chief Scientist under Presidents Obama and Trump. “It is critical that they be unburdened by political interference and allowed to focus on the challenge at hand.”
“Discarding the views of seasoned federal scientists has already hamstrung our response to the pandemic and cost countless people their lives,” says signatory Dr. Peter Lurie, former Associate Commissioner for Public Health Strategy and Analysis at the Food and Drug Administration under Presidents Obama and Trump. “Science must be our yardstick; without that there is the inevitable chaos we have endured for the last several months.”
Their full statement can be read here.