Alarming political interference amid Covid-19 undermines credibility of health agencies: US science academies

Statement comes after Trump said that his administration may or may not approve new tougher FDA guidelines for the authorization of a coronavirus vaccine


                            Alarming political interference amid Covid-19 undermines credibility of health agencies: US science academies
(Getty Images)

Science academies in the US have warned of an "alarming" political interference in the work of public health agencies and scientists during the Covid-19 pandemic. The statement jointly issued by the presidents of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) comes a day after President Donald Trump said that the White House may or may not approve any new stricter guidelines issued by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the authorization of a Covid-19 vaccine. The scientific bodies emphasize that at this critical time in the course of the pandemic, any efforts to discredit the best science and scientists threaten the health of all Ameircans.

“We find ongoing reports and incidents of the politicization of science, particularly the overriding of evidence and advice from public health officials and derision of government scientists, to be alarming. It undermines the credibility of public health agencies and the public’s confidence in them when we need it most,” reads the statement issued by NAS president Marcia McNutt, and NAM president Victor J Dzau. They add, “Ending the pandemic will require decision-making that is not only based on science but also sufficiently transparent to ensure public trust in, and adherence to, sound public-health instructions. Any efforts to discredit the best science and scientists threaten the health and welfare of us all.” The science and medicine academies and their sister organization, the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), are non-governmental groups that advise the US government. They are currently analyzing ways to fairly distribute a Covid-19 vaccine after a request from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to draw up a framework for the equitable allocation of one.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, Medicine in the US are currently analyzing ways to fairly distribute a Covid-19 vaccine (Getty Images)

 

In the latest statement, the national academies have emphasized that as advisers to the nation on all matters of science, medicine, and public health, they are “compelled to underscore” the value of science-based decision-making at all levels of government. “Our nation is at a critical time in the course of the Covid-19 pandemic with important decisions ahead of us, especially concerning the efficacy and safety of vaccines. Policymaking must be informed by the best available evidence without it being distorted, concealed, or otherwise deliberately miscommunicated,” they recommend.

After reports emerged that the FDA may be considering stricter guidelines for the emergency authorization of a coronavirus vaccine, Trump told journalists that his administration is looking into the matter, adding that such a proposal would appear political. “We’re looking at that, and that has to be approved by the White House. We may or may not approve it. That sounds like a political move because when you have Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, these great companies coming up with these — the vaccines, and they’ve done testing and everything else, I’m saying, ‘Why would they have to be, you know, adding great length to the process?’” questioned Trump. He added, “We want to have people not get sick. The vaccine is very important. It’s the final step. I believe it’s going to be the final step. And no, we’re looking at that, but I think it’s — I think that was a political move more than anything else.”

Meanwhile, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn has told the Senate that the agency will not authorize, or approve a vaccine that “we would not feel comfortable giving to our families”. “Decisions to authorize or approve any such vaccine or therapeutic will be made by the dedicated career staff at FDA through our thorough review processes and science will guide our decisions. FDA will not permit any pressure from anyone to change that. I will fight for science. I will fight for the integrity of the agency, and I will put the interests of the American people before anything else,” he said.

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