Why did US's Covid-19 response fail? Govt ignored science and politicized vaccines and masks, says journal
In a scathing editorial, New England Journal of Medicine said the current political leaders have demonstrated that they are ‘dangerously incompetent’
Stating that political leaders in the US have taken a crisis and turned it into a tragedy, one of the most prestigious medical journals — the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) — has published an editorial condemning the Donald Trump administration for its poor handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Titled ‘Dying in a Leadership Vacuum', it does not specifically name President Donald Trump and nor does it endorse any particular candidate. However, the scathing editorial calls on Americans to vote out the current “dangerously incompetent” political leadership for the poor response of the Covid-19 crisis.
"Covid-19 has created a crisis throughout the world. This crisis has produced a test of leadership. With no good options to combat a novel pathogen, countries were forced to make hard choices about how to respond. Here in the US, our leaders have failed that test. They have taken a crisis and turned it into a tragedy. The magnitude of this failure is astonishing," says the article signed by all its editors.
According to NEJM, while it is impossible to project the precise number of additional American lives lost because of "weak and inappropriate government policies", it is at least in the tens of thousands in a pandemic that has already killed more Americans than any conflict since World War 2. Over 211,750 in the US have lost their lives in the pandemic and more than 7,547,920 coronavirus cases have been recorded so far, suggests the Johns Hopkins tracker. It also points out that while most of the world has opened up to some extent, the US still suffers from disease rates that have prevented many businesses from reopening, with a resultant loss of hundreds of billions of dollars and millions of jobs.
"Anyone else who recklessly squandered lives and money in this way would be suffering legal consequences. Our leaders have largely claimed immunity for their actions. But this election gives us the power to render judgment. Reasonable people will certainly disagree about the many political positions taken by candidates," write editors. They continued, "But truth is neither liberal nor conservative. When it comes to the response to the largest public health crisis of our time, our current political leaders have demonstrated that they are dangerously incompetent. We should not abet them and enable the deaths of thousands (of) more Americans by allowing them to keep their jobs."
Published continuously for over 200 years, John Collins Warren, a Boston physician and scholar, collaborated in 1811 with colleague James Jackson to establish the first medical journal in New England, publishing the first quarterly edition of the New England Journal of Medicine and Surgery and the Collateral Branches of Medical Science (Boston) in January of 1812. It was renamed New England Journal of Medicine in 1928. For the first time in its history, the journal had called out for the current leadership to be voted out of office.
The editorial raises the question, "Why has the US handled this pandemic so badly?" and explains that the reason is that the country has failed at almost every step. "We had ample warning, but when the disease first arrived, we were incapable of testing effectively and couldn’t provide even the most basic personal protective equipment to health care workers and the general public. And we continue to be way behind the curve in testing," it adds.
Why has the United States handled this pandemic so badly? The Editors note that although we came into this crisis with enormous advantages, our current political leaders have demonstrated that they are dangerously incompetent.— NEJM (@NEJM) October 7, 2020
According to the editors, while the absolute numbers of tests have increased substantially, the more useful metric is the number of tests performed per infected person, a rate which they says puts the US far down the international list, below such places as Kazakhstan, Zimbabwe, and Ethiopia, “countries that cannot boast the biomedical infrastructure or the manufacturing capacity that we have".
The editorial further points out that the US instituted quarantine and isolation measures late and inconsistently, often without any effort to enforce them after the disease had spread substantially in many communities. It criticizes the ‘lackadaisical’ rules on social distancing in many places and argues that the restrictions were loosened long before adequate disease control had been achieved. "And in much of the country, people simply don’t wear masks, largely because our leaders have stated outright that masks are political tools rather than effective infection control measures. The government has appropriately invested heavily in vaccine development, but its rhetoric has politicized the development process and led to growing public distrust," write authors.
The journal says that despite having a biomedical research system that is the "envy of the world", and enormous expertise in public health, US leaders have largely chosen to ignore and even denigrate experts. Calling out several governmental agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Food and Drug Administration, the editorial says that they have been undermined by the federal government. According to NEJM, the current leaders have undercut trust in science and government, causing damage that “will certainly outlast them".
"The CDC, which was the world’s leading disease response organization, has been eviscerated and has suffered dramatic testing and policy failures. The NIH has played a key role in vaccine development but has been excluded from much crucial government decision making. And the FDA has been shamefully politicized, appearing to respond to pressure from the administration rather than scientific evidence. Instead of relying on expertise, the administration has turned to uninformed 'opinion leaders' and charlatans who obscure the truth and facilitate the promulgation of outright lies,” the editors wrote.