Health Letter, October 2022
By Michael Carome, M.D.
If you’re not outraged,
you’re not paying attention!
Read what Public Citizen has to say about the biggest blunders and outrageous offenses in the world of public health, published monthly in Health Letter.
In a head-scratching moment that was reminiscent of President Trump’s repeated claims in early 2020 that COVID-19 would soon disappear, President Biden during his Sept. 18, 2022, interview on 60 Minutes with Scott Pelley declared that the “[COVID-19] pandemic is over.” As evidence to back up his declaration, Biden casually observed, “If you’ve noticed, no one’s wearing masks, everybody seems to be in pretty good shape.”
However, statistics from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center on reported COVID-19 cases and deaths both globally and in the U.S. are indicative of an ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The numbers of weekly reported cases of COVID-19 for the week ending Sept. 18 were approximately 3.4 million globally and 437,000 in the U.S., and these number are severalfold lower than the actual number of new cases because most cases go unreported. The numbers of COVID-19 deaths for the same week were 11,562 globally and 2,991 in the U.S.
Biden’s erroneous declaration that the COVID-19 pandemic has ended likely will undermine the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’s recently launched major public outreach campaign to encourage people throughout the U.S. to get one of the COVID-19 bivalent mRNA vaccine boosters that specifically target the highly transmissible omicron variants currently circulating in the U.S. (as well as the original COVID-19 virus). On Aug. 31, 2022 — based in part on an ongoing declaration by the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services that “the COVID-19 pandemic constitutes a public health emergency” — the Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorizations for the new boosters made by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna. The U.S. spent nearly $5 billion to purchase approximately 171 million doses of these new vaccine boosters from Pfizer and Moderna. Convincing many people to receive one of these booster doses was already going to be an uphill battle before Biden’s untimely declaration.
The President’s premature declaration also provides more ammunition to those members of Congress who oppose his request for emergency funding to combat COVID-19 (and the monkeypox outbreak). The Biden administration is seeking $22.4 billion to develop and purchase new COVID-19 treatments and vaccines and to restart free COVID-19 testing programs, among other programs, but even prior to his declaration, his funding request was facing stiff resistance.
Ironically, on Sept. 14, 2022, a multidisciplinary panel of global experts commissioned by the Lancet in July 2020 issued a blistering report criticizing governments around the world for their multiple failures to adequately respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Lancet COVID-19 Commission concluded that the staggering worldwide COVID-19 death toll “is both a profound tragedy and a massive global failure at multiple levels.” Among the problems cited by the Lancet Commission that contributed to this global failure was “widespread political ineffectiveness,” as evidenced by several national leaders making “highly irresponsible statements in the first few months of the [pandemic], neglecting scientific evidence and needlessly risking lives with a view to keeping the economy open.”
Almost immediately after Biden’s interview on 60 Minutes aired, White House officials tried to walk back Biden’s declaration that the pandemic is over, but unfortunately, the damage had already been done. As Dr. Celine Grounder, an epidemiologist and senior fellow with the Kaiser Family Foundation, told NPR, “When you have the president of the U.S. saying the pandemic is over, why would people line up for their boosters? Why would Congress allocate additional funding for these other strategies and tools? I am profoundly disappointed. I think this is a real lack of leadership.”