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Primary source of COVID misinformation is the feds, scientists and scholars tell surgeon general

Academic freedom groups warn feds not to chill research that challenges conventional wisdom or adjudicate "properly scientific questions."

Published: May 19, 2022 4:33pm

Updated: May 19, 2022 10:51pm

U.S Surgeon General Vivek Murthy recently asked the public how COVID-19 misinformation "in the digital information environment" had affected health outcomes, trust in the healthcare system and "likelihood to vaccinate," among other issues.

According to vaccine and healthcare policy experts who joined with Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, the misinformation is coming from inside the house.

They filed a comment in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) proceeding, accusing the CDC and other health organizations of promoting falsehoods and shoddy research that "shattered the public's trust in science and public health," which will "take decades to repair."

Rokita and epidemiologists Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford School of Medicine and Martin Kulldorff, formerly of Harvard Medical School, also took aim at official government figures for COVID deaths that are repeatedly cited in the media.

"The government spent close to $5 trillion fighting COVID-19, but still can't provide Hoosiers with an accurate number of deaths or hospitalizations from COVID-19," Rokita said in a press release.

While the comment doesn't mention National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci, the press release specifically calls him out for "misleading messages" about the abilities of vaccines, masks and asymptomatic testing to stop COVID transmission. 

Rokita's office told Just the News not to assume critical comments will be included when HHS reviews and posts the comments on the docket page, which lists 463 comments received by the May 2 deadline. It pointed to an FAQ page that says "not every comment is made publicly available to read."

The Hoosier State's top law enforcement officer, who frequently leads coalitions of Republican AGs against Biden administration policies, is one of the few elected officials to publicly question official COVID figures.

Oregon state Sens. Kim Thatcher and Dennis Lincecum previously asked U.S. Attorney Scott Asphaug to convene a grand jury to investigate how the pandemic was being measured, especially an early CDC directive to emphasize COVID as a "cause" in deaths with preexisting conditions.

Rokita, Bhattacharya and Kulldorff echoed those concerns, flatly calling CDC figures "inaccurate" for failing to distinguish COVID as the primary or contributing cause of death, if not "incidental." 

Audits of death certificates in California's Santa Clara and Alameda counties found about 25% wrongly listed COVID as the primary cause, in line with pressure on physicians to blame COVID "even when the medical facts suggest otherwise." Unprecedented mass asymptomatic testing and the CDC's refusal to conduct "national surveys of medical charts" also make the numbers unreliable, they said.

Health officials misrepresented randomized controlled trials designed to test COVID vaccines against symptomatic infection, claiming they showed the vaccines stop transmission, and public health messaging "blunted" the 1,000-fold COVID risk difference between old and young, the trio said. 

The result was vaccine passports, school closures and other harmful lockdowns without empirical basis, they said, citing Sweden's positive results from keeping schools open "without masks, social distancing, or testing" and its "near-zero overall excess death" despite eschewing lockdown. 

While the CDC took nearly two years to recommend masks designed to filter aerosolized viruses such as SARS-CoV 2, "even well-fitted N95 masks have diminished capacity to stop viral transmission when they become moist from breathing," the trio wrote.

The agency's refusal to accept natural immunity — recognized by the ancient Greeks and empirically verified in COVID's first year — as a substitute for vaccination is "the most surprising disinformation" encountered by Kulldorff and Bhattacharya, the coauthors of the anti-lockdown Great Barrington Declaration. 

Neither the CDC nor NIAID responded to Just the News queries about the trio's characterizations of their messaging and policy decisions.

Other commenters saw red flags in Murthy's proceeding from an academic perspective.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education warned the surgeon general not to "prevent the medical community from properly scrutinizing" the assumptions behind public health actions in an emergency by chilling their research.

Supreme Court precedent as recent as 2012 confirms there is "no general exception to First Amendment protections for false statements," the civil liberties group said. It faulted Francis Collins, then-director of the National Institutes of Health, for invoking the widely misunderstood "fire in a crowded theater" analogy to call for censorship.

Murthy's phrase "information environment" is broad enough to cover the university campuses that house "an ample portion" of American R&D, the plurality funded by the feds, FIRE said. "One key lesson of the Covid-19 pandemic has been that the sands of our understanding shift rapidly and our initial assumptions do not always survive when subjected to rigorous scrutiny," cautioned the First Amendment watchdog.

"The very concept of misinformation is anathema to any scientific approach to serious health issues like the COVID-19 pandemic," the right-leaning National Association of Scholars wrote. "Federal authorities, even expert authorities, should never engage in defining or adjudicating what are properly scientific questions." 

NAS called the feds "the major purveyor of misinformation" by pushing "policy recommendations that are inconsistent, only loosely based on scientific recommendations, and actively deleterious to the communities they are pledged to protect." 

It noted NIH hid "key COVID-19 genetic sequences from China" at the request of Chinese researchers. "'Misinformation' includes such efforts to mislead researchers about the existence and availability of pertinent data," NAS said.

Groups that support Murthy's efforts also filed comments. The Infectious Diseases Society of America blamed misinformation about "fertility issues, increased rates of cancer and potential autoimmune diseases" for vaccine hesitancy especially among "pregnant people," while nurses and paramedics also have unexpectedly low rates "based on lack of knowledge on safety."

It insisted that "reported side effects" from vaccination, "including blood clots and myocarditis … are actually more likely to occur in persons infected with SARS-CoV-2 than those who have just been vaccinated," but didn't acknowledge research on vaccine-associated heart problems in populations at low risk from COVID.

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