We first saw this in Mr. Trump’s misguided touting of the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine. In a whistleblower complaint, former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority Rick Bright described how the White House and senior officials at the Department of Health and Human Services pressed to distribute the drug beyond the FDA’s narrow authorization, even though it had no known utility as a coronavirus treatment.
Then, last month, Mr. Trump pressed for approval of expanded use of blood plasma from recovered patients to treat covid-19. The National Institutes of Health had concerns about effectiveness. On Aug. 19, Mr. Trump phoned Francis Collins, the NIH director, with a blunt message. “Get it done by Friday,” he said, according to the New York Times. Mr. Trump announced the FDA’s authorization on Aug. 23, on the eve of the Republican convention, using an exaggerated estimate of its potential usefulness.
Now comes fresh evidence that the CDC’s scientific reports are being manipulated to meet Mr. Trump’s political imperatives. Politico reported that communications officials at HHS are reviewing and editing the CDC’s dispatches, the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, written by career scientists. According to Politico, the assistant secretary for public affairs at HHS, Michael Caputo, and Mr. Caputo’s scientific adviser Paul Alexander demanded changes in the reports. At one point, Mr. Alexander complained in an email that “CDC to me appears to be writing hit pieces on the administration.” The officials were “particularly bristling” about a report that described a coronavirus outbreak in June at a children’s overnight summer camp in Georgia and said children of all ages were susceptible to infection.
Mr. Caputo heaped scorn on the CDC scientists in a Facebook video, claiming CDC career government scientists were engaging in “sedition” in their handling of the pandemic. He added, “There are scientists who work for this government who do not want America to get well, not until after Joe Biden is president.” On Wednesday, the agency announced Mr. Caputo is taking a 60-day medical leave from his post, while Mr. Alexander has left DHS entirely. Meanwhile, Mr. Trump openly rebuked his own CDC director, Robert Redfield, who predicted that a vaccine may be available only next spring or summer, not before the upcoming election, as Mr. Trump insists.
The bare-knuckle politicization of science puts the nation at risk. It could lead people to lose faith in these public health agencies, cascading into dangerous distrust of a vaccine or drug therapy. It is hard to see the political profit in that.