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Fauci scientist joins critics of federal COVID response in 'blueprint' for truth commission

"Norfolk Group" participant warns that "messy and partisan process" will greet its report on federal pandemic failures but offers opportunity for "serious reform of dysfunctional government agencies."

Published: February 8, 2023 3:54pm

Updated: February 8, 2023 11:23pm

As congressional Republicans begin multiple reviews of the federal government's actions against disfavored political and scientific narratives, a cross-ideological coalition of scientists, physicians and policy experts is giving lawmakers a roadmap for a potential "COVID commission" on federal pandemic policy failures.

One works for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, helmed for 38 years by Anthony Fauci, who dropped his own bombshell reexamination of COVID and other respiratory vaccines shortly after stepping down. 

Others include repeat targets of Big Tech censorship and a backdoor cancelation campaign by then-National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins.

The House Oversight Committee kicked off the series of GOP-led inquiries Wednesday by grilling Twitter executives fired by new owner Elon Musk about their role in "suppressing the [Hunter] Biden laptop story," but lawmakers didn't stick to just that topic. 

One viral clip shows Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) reporting she developed ongoing health problems following her second COVID vaccine dose and asking former chief legal officer Vijaya Gadde for the "medical expertise" Twitter relied on to censor a tweet that included a CDC chart.

The House Judiciary Committee's Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government comes next with a Thursday hearing investigating the politicization of the FBI and Justice Department. The witness list includes current and former lawmakers as well as former FBI agents. 

The Norfolk Group, whose 80-page report was largely written in the second half of last year, is something of a sequel to 2020's Great Barrington Declaration, which called for "focused protection" to shield high-risk people from the novel coronavirus while eschewing lockdowns.

Both initiatives include epidemiologists Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford and Martin Kulldorff, formerly of Harvard Med, and started with meetings in New England towns coordinated by Jeffrey Tucker, first as editorial director of the American Institute for Economic Research and then founder of the Brownstone Institute. 

Norfolk's expanded roster includes NIAID's Margery Smelkinson, who has repeatedly and publicly challenged school COVID policies favored by her old boss, and zoonotic disease researcher Leslie Bienen, who recently left Oregon Health and Sciences University. 

Last fall the duo collaborated on an op-ed criticizing the distortions created by COVID "emergency" policy. Smelkinson leaves her NIAID affiliation off her writing and in media interviews, but includes it on her Twitter profile.

Other participants include Johns Hopkins medical professor Marty Makary, a National Academy of Medicine member who writes frequently on the harms of COVID policies, and University of California San Francisco epidemiologist Tracy Beth Hoeg and Stanford emergency room physician Ram Duriseti, both plaintiffs in a lawsuit against California's recently halted medical misinformation law.

Many know each other from forums challenging mainstream COVID narratives. Indiana University immunologist Steve Templeton serves on Florida's Public Health Integrity Committee with Kulldorff and Bhattacharya, for example.

Now that "SARS-CoV-2 has entered a stage of endemicity" recognized by all but "a few dead-end doom addicts on social media," the U.S. is overdue to join Norway, Sweden, The Netherlands, U.K. and Denmark in public inquiries on COVID responses, Templeton wrote in his Fear of a Microbial Planet newsletter Monday, giving context for the report.

"Critics will no doubt reflexively label our document as a partisan effort funded with a secret pile of [libertarian philanthropist Charles] Koch money" — an allusion to a false charge leveled against the Great Barrington Declaration — but it had "no outside influence" other than Brownstone's early coordination, he said.

Despite the "messy and partisan process" likely to engulf the document, the Norfolk Group sees congressional inquiries as an opportunity for "serious reform of dysfunctional government agencies," including the CDC, FDA and NIH, Templeton wrote.

The report emphasizes its authors have criticized decisions by "individuals appointed by and serving in both Republican and Democratic administrations," alluding to President Trump's elevation of pro-lockdown voices including Fauci and Deborah Birx.

It avoids questions about COVID origins, economic effects or "media handling of the pandemic," comparing itself to "morbidity and mortality conferences" at hospitals and post-crash aviation investigations. 

A COVID commission should tackle 10 questions, including poor protection for "older high-risk Americans," the "widespread questioning" of natural immunity by officials and "some prominent scientists," and school and college closures that bucked "early evidence about the enormous age-gradient in COVID-19 mortality" and the "enormous collateral damage" they would cause.

Policymakers must probe the "almost exclusive focus" on COVID at the expense of public health priorities such as childhood vaccinations, the federal failure to "collect timely data" or study the virus "and the effects of therapeutics" such as hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin, and the inexplicable "emphasis and trust in complex epidemiological models" that are "by nature unreliable" during pandemics.

Answering how "certain drugs became heavily politicized" should be a priority, especially given that both authorizations and rejections were often made with weak evidence, the report says.

It contrasts the FDA's fast authorization of hydroxychloroquine and "rapid gathering of [randomized controlled trial] evidence," at which point the agency revoked its authorization, with the FDA's early failure to do a large RCT on ivermectin to resolve conflicting evidence.

The feds also authorized and promoted budget-busting therapeutics including remdesivir, the subject of a scathing Science review in November 2020, and Pfizer's rebound infection-prone Paxlovid while rejecting fluvoxamine, a "low toxicity, generic, and low cost medication with decades of use in non-infectious settings," the report says.

Vaccine RCTs failed to "evaluate mortality, hospitalization, and transmission as primary endpoints" and ended early, while few studies emerged from "the highest-quality CDC and FDA vaccine safety systems," failures that deserve legislative scrutiny, the authors wrote.

Policymakers should scrutinize why the U.S. was "slow to approve and roll out critical COVID-19 testing capacity" and then focus resources on "young asymptomatic individuals" and contract-tracing, according to the report. 

Authorities ignored "efficient and critical" mitigation efforts while promoting and mandating masking despite "weak or no data," a gap the CDC or NIH could have plugged with large RCTs, the report says. Lawmakers should ask why policy recommendations didn't change after RCTs from Denmark and Bangladesh confirmed how little masks accomplish.

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