Regular readers of this blog know that I’ve repeatedly challenged the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for what I have argued are their highly alarmist positions condemning raw milk. As just one example, last year I pointed out holes in their warnings that raw milk was making people sick, when in fact, the illnesses were the result of a brucellosis vaccine for cows that was making its way into milk being drunk unpasteurized by consumers.
But as much as I disagree with the agencies’ interpretations of data or fear mongering, I have never seen evidence the agencies actually suppressed data or altered safety standards for baldly political purposes……until the last few weeks. America’s disaster with the Covid-19 pandemic—which has resulted in the U.S. leading the world in deaths and cases—has led the Trump administration to both block CDC reports and to suggest it will loosen FDA safety standards for a Covid-19 vaccine to ostensibly help the president in his re-election campaign.
The problem with giving politics precedence over science is fairly obvious—people don’t know whom to trust, and could needlessly endanger their health. Rushing a vaccine before it has been fully tested could be disastrous.
An extreme example of a dictator subverting science to his personal political preferences was Adolph Hitler and his theories about race—that Christian Germans (“Aryans”) were genetically superior to other Germans (especially Jews), as well as to other Europeans. He used those theories to justify invasions of other countries and to commit genocide.
While his theories haven’t been as wild, Donald Trump has repeatedly rejected science in favor of his own theories about infectious disease. At the pandemic’s beginning, he denied predictions by public health experts in the U.S. and abroad about its spread (“It will go away”), denigrated the notion of using testing to isolate early cases and restrict the virus’ spread; as time went on, he denigrated the wearing of face masks, and social distancing, despite evidence they help reduce spread. He even came up with his own theory that ingesting bleach could kill off the virus within our bodies. What dictators or wannabe dictators ask of us is that we forsake science for the dictator’s supposedly super-human powers.
Overall, it wasn’t so much that Trump was pushing his own theories as that he was rejecting the science associated with infectious disease spread and the recommendations of both his own and the worldwide scientific communities. In effect, he was giving legitimacy to the many theories and conspiracies put forth by members of his “base”—that masks were harmful; that members of the scientific community like Anthony Fauci were somehow conspiring to help spread the virus so they could profit from a vaccine; that Covid-19 was at the same level of danger as a flu; that China developed the virus and released it on an unsuspecting world; etc., etc. (I had to laugh yesterday, when government infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci corrected Sen. Rand Paul, an ophthalmologist and obvious infectious disease amateur), on his repeated assertions that New York has achieved herd immunity; “If you believe 22% infections is herd immunity, you stand alone….”)
Irony of ironies—Trump cast his (and the country’s) lot with a vaccine, committing billions of dollars to development by multiple Big Pharma companies, in hopes he’d be hailed as a hero when one was ready by election day…..even though many of his backers are suspicious of vaccines, and medical experts say a vaccine that has passed rigorous safety testing can’t be completed that soon.
His backers rationalize Trump’s vaccine-by-election-day obsession by choosing to believe he won’t mandate a vaccine, and that his opponent (former Vice President Joe Biden) will impose a mandate. The reality is that whatever vaccines are finally approved won’t need to be mandated by the president, since they will most likely be required by key businesses and institutions in our lives—you’ll need to show you’ve been vaccinated to get on a plane or get into a sporting event or be allowed into office buildings or factories to get to work…..you get the idea.
The science on pandemics, and other public health matters, is far from settled. And for a new virus like Covid-19, it is very far from settled (which is one of the reasons it’s referred to as a “novel” virus). But at least it relies on public data and studies, along with consistent standards developed by a credible community of scientists and medical professionals. I’ll take it over the personal meanderings and politically inspired delusions of a president/wannabe dictator and his die-hard followers any day of the week.