Dr. Anthony Fauci waits to testify before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Washington, DC, June 23, 2020 (Kevin Dietsch/Reuters)
Donald Trump’s appointees in the Department of Health and Human Services are trying to prevent Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Government’s top Coronavirus expert, from speaking about the risks to children.
Paul Alexander — a senior advisor to Trump political appointee Michael Caputo, HHS’s Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs — directed press officers and other staff at the National Institutes of Health on what Fauci should say during media interviews.
The lengthy e-mails, sent as recently as this week, often contradict scientific advice and promote Trump’s positions and false claims on issues from school reopening to the use of convalescent plasma as a treatment.
Alexander e-mailed on August 27, ahead of a Fauci interview with Bloomberg:
I continue to have an issue with kids getting tested and repeatedly and even university students in a widespread manner…and I disagree with Dr. Fauci on this. Vehemently.
Last Tuesday, Alexander commanded Fauci, through his press team, that he should not promote mask-wearing by children during an MSNBC interview.
Alexander claimed, without evidence, that the risk of spread from children to adults is “essentially zero” and that students can take influenza home but not Coronavirus.
Can you ensure Dr. Fauci indicates masks are for the teachers in schools. Not for children. There is no data, none, zero, across the entire world, that shows children especially young children, spread this virus to other children, or to adults or to their teachers. None. And if it did occur, the risk is essentially zero,” he continued — adding without evidence that children take influenza home, but not Coronavirus.
Burying The Expert
Angered that medical assessments could jeopardize his demands for “reopening”, Donald Trump ended the presence of Fauci and Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx at White House briefings in late May.
Trump belittled Fauci through his statements and those of senior advisors.
In mid-July, Trump authorized an all-out assault by his trade advisor Peter Navarro in an opinion article in USA Today, “Dr. Anthony Fauci has a good bedside manner with the public, but he has been wrong about everything I have interacted with him on.”
The initiative backfired, but Trump persisted with a retweet, “Dr. Fauci has misled the American public on many issues.”
The White House blocked US media appearances by Fauci, so the doctor turned to Congressional testimony, webcasts, and interviews with foreign outlets to set out the medical and public health advice on Coronavirus.
Trump said in an interview broadcast last week:
I inherited him….He’s been here for 40 years….You inherit a lot of people, it’s some of the machinery. You have some you love, some you don’t. I like him. I don’t agree with him that often.
Responding to the news of the e-mails, Facui said that he had not seen them and that his staff had not instructed him to minimize risk.
“No one tells me what I can say and cannot say,”the doctor said. “I speak on scientific evidence.”
Epidemiologists and public health experts warned of the dangers of Alexander’s e-mail instructions.
Saskia Popescu, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Arizona, explained, “While children may not be the primary drivers of the outbreak, that sort of blanket statement is dangerous.”
A recent study from the The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association found that more than 513,000 children have caught the virus since the pandemic began in the US. More than 70,000 were infected in 12 days from August 20 to Sept. 3.
In late August, for example, a National Institutes of Health scientist, Andrea Lerner, rejected Alexander’s assertions that the coronavirus poses “zero” risk to children.
While transmission dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 involving children are not fully understood, potentially complex and probably differ across age groups, I don’t feel it is correct to say there is “no evidence, zero, that children spread this virus to children in schools or to adults”. Or that, “They take influenza home but do not take COVID home.”
She highlighted four studies showing Coronavirus spread among children, including a CDC assessment of a rapid spread through a Georgia summer camp where 44% of children and staff tested positive.
Alexander has also backed Trump’s political positions by objecting to the scientific conclusions on the need for widespread testing and on randomized, controlled clinical trials to test efficacy and safety of possible vaccines and treatments.
He also defended Trump’s assertions that the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine could be a cure for Coronavirus, despite numerous studies showing a lack of effectiveness and the dangers of interrupted heart rate.