Biden’s Science Advisors Do Not Agree on What “Science” Says to Do Against Covid-19

(p. A1) WASHINGTON — On the day President Biden was inaugurated, the advisory board of health experts who counseled him during his transition officially ceased to exist. But its members have quietly continued to meet regularly over Zoom, their conversations often turning to frustration with Mr. Biden’s coronavirus response.

Now, six of these former advisers have gone public with an extraordinary, albeit polite, critique — and a plea to be heard. In three opinion articles published on Thursday [Jan. 6, 2022] in The Journal of the American Medical Association, they called for Mr. Biden to adopt an entirely new domestic pandemic strategy geared to the “new normal” of living with the virus indefinitely, not to wiping it out.

. . .

(p. A11) Like any White House, Mr. Biden’s prizes loyalty and prefers to keep its differences in house; in that regard, the articles are an unusual step. The authors say they wrote them partly because they have not made headway talking directly to White House officials.

. . .

The authors shared the articles with White House officials before they were published, but it was unclear whether the administration would adopt any of their suggestions. Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, Mr. Biden’s top medical adviser for the pandemic, declined to comment on the articles.

The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, told reporters she had not read the articles, and dismissed a question about whether the president “is coming around to accepting” that Covid-19 is here to stay, even though several recent media accounts suggested that the administration was beginning to operate under that assumption.

. . .

The most surprising thing about the articles is that they were written at all. Several of the authors said in interviews they were dismayed that the administration seemed caught off guard by the Delta and Omicron variants. Dr. Bright, who helped write two of the pieces, recalled the warning he issued when the advisory board had its last meeting on Jan. 20, 2021.

“The last thing I said,” he recalled, “is that our vaccines are going to get weaker and eventually fail. We must now prepare for variants; we have to put a plan in place to continually update our vaccines, our diagnostics and our genomics so we can catch this early. Because the variants will come, and we should never be surprised and we should never underestimate this virus.”

. . .

The president recently released a new winter strategy, just as the Omicron variant began spreading in the United States.

. . .

He has insisted there will be no lockdowns, and has repeatedly pleaded with Americans to get vaccinated.

“I honest to God believe it’s your patriotic duty,” Mr. Biden said recently.

But Dr. Bright said such language was turning off Americans, including many Trump voters, who are resistant to vaccines.

“The message continues to berate unvaccinated people and almost bully unvaccinated people,” said Dr. Bright, who led a federal biomedical agency during the Trump administration but quit the government after being demoted for complaining about political interference in science. “There are so many reasons people are unvaccinated; it’s not just because they follow Trump.”

The authors say the administration needs to look past Omicron and acknowledge that it may not mark the end of the pandemic — and to plan for a future that they concede is unknowable.

For the full story, see:

Sheryl Gay Stolberg. “Ex-Aides Urge U.S. to Remake Covid Strategy.” The New York Times (Friday, January 7, 2022): A1 & A11.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Jan. 6, 2022, and has the title “Former Biden Advisers Urge a Pandemic Strategy for the ‘New Normal’.”)

The three JAMA articles mentioned above are:

Emanuel, Ezekiel J., Michael Osterholm, and Celine R. Gounder. “A National Strategy for the “New Normal” of Life with Covid.” JAMA (Jan. 6, 2022). DOI: 10.1001/jama.2021.24282.

Michaels, David, Ezekiel J. Emanuel, and Rick A. Bright. “A National Strategy for Covid-19: Testing, Surveillance, and Mitigation Strategies.” JAMA (Jan. 6, 2022).

Borio, Luciana L., Rick A. Bright, and Ezekiel J. Emanuel. “A National Strategy for Covid-19 Medical Countermeasures: Vaccines and Therapeutics.” JAMA (Jan. 6, 2022). DOI: 10.1001/jama.2021.24165.

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