A federal investigation into Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that public health officials suppressed Covid study findings for political reasons, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has revealed in a 37-page report.
GAO investigators inteviewed at least a dozen directors and managers who were involved in the agencies’ Covid guidance. The government watchdog found evidence of “political interference” in scientific reports.
“A few respondents from CDC and [Food and Drug Administration] FDA stated they felt that the potential political interference they observed resulted in the alteration or suppression of scientific findings,” GAO investigators found.
“Some of these respondents believed that this potential political interference may have resulted in the politically motivated alteration of public health guidance or delayed publication of Covid-related scientific findings,” they added.
The FDA notably did not issue an Emergency Use Authorization for a Covid-19 vaccine before the 2020 election, despite some insiders believing it might have been approved before Election Day (potentially costing Americans’ lives). Science magazine noted this concern in August 2020 in an article entitled, “Here’s how the U.S. could release a COVID-19 vaccine before the election—and why that scares some.”
“When President Donald Trump accepted his party’s nomination for another term last night at the Republican National Convention, he pledged that the push by his administration’s Operation Warp Speed to deliver a COVID-19 vaccine would succeed ‘before the end of the year, or maybe even sooner’,” Science reported.
“That promise concerns many vaccine veterans,” the story went on. “They worry that political forces—the U.S. presidential election on 3 November, nationalistic pride to ‘win’ a race, the need to resuscitate economies—could lead to premature and dangerous approvals under mechanisms such as the emergency use authorization (EUA), a pathway used by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to allow rapid access to diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines. Long a bastion of regulatory rigor that many other countries look to for guidance, FDA has been criticized for issuing EUAs for two COVID-19 treatments, convalescent plasma and hydroxychloroquine, based on scant data and apparent political pressure.”
The FDA would not issue a Covid-19 vaccine authorization prior to the 2020 election, raising questions about political decision-making. The GAO issued 7 recommendations for the FDA, CDC, NIH and HHS:
The GAO’s findings were disturbing, as was summarized by the Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society (RAPS).
“Employees at four US public health agencies have observed incidents of possible political interference in scientific decision-making over the last 10 years but did not report them because they feared retaliation, did not know how to report them, or thought agency leaders were already aware of the issues, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO),” RAPS said.
“GAO, the federal auditing agency, conducted semi-structured interviews and set up a confidential hotline to gain information from federal health employees on the existence of political interference during the COVID-19 pandemic and in the decade earlier,” the report continued. “The investigation included four agencies that are part of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS): the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASRP).
“Despite public accusations of political interference in COVID-19 related decisions and policies, the GAO found that there were no formally reported internal allegations of potential political interference in scientific decision-making from 2010 through 2021,” the report added. “However, GAO said the lack of complaints may be explained by the absence of specific reporting procedures. During interviews, some federal employees said they observed, but did not report, potential incidents of political interference.”
“A few respondents from CDC and FDA stated they felt that the potential political interference they observed resulted in the alteration or suppression of scientific findings. Some of these respondents believed that this potential political interference may have resulted in the politically motivated alteration of public health guidance or delayed publication of COVID-19-related scientific findings,” GAO reported.
“GAO found that all four agencies had scientific integrity policies and trained staff on these topics, but none of them defined political interference in scientific decision-making or had specific procedures for reporting and addressing interference. Only the NIH offered training specifically about political interference.
The government agencies are reportedly taking action due to the GAO’s report.
“FDA officials also told GAO investigators that they are planning to develop new procedures for reporting and addressing political interference in scientific decision-making,” RAPS noted. “GAO offered a series of recommendations, calling on each of the agencies to establish procedures for reporting and addressing political interference in scientific decision-making, including defining political interference. Additionally, the agencies should ensure that all employees and contractors who engage in scientific activities are trained on how to report potential political interference.”
“In a response to the findings, officials from HHS concurred with the GAO recommendations and said the agency had formed a working group to update the HHS scientific integrity policy by July 2022,” the report noted.
“Whistleblowers said they did not speak up at the time for fear of retaliation, because they were unsure how to report the issues or believed leaders were already aware,” the report concluded.
OPINION: This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion.