The norms around science and politics are cracking

https://www.axios.com/science-politics-norms-cracking-f67bcff2-b399-44f4-8827-085573f5ae52.html

Illustration of a hand holding a cracked microscope slide containing the U.S. flag.

Crafting successful public health measures depends on the ability of top scientists to gather data and report their findings unrestricted to policymakers.

State of play: But concern has spiked among health experts and physicians over what they see as an assault on key science protections, particularly during a raging pandemic. And a move last week by President Trump, via an executive order, is triggering even more worries.

What’s happening: If implemented, the order creates a “Schedule F” class of federal employees who are policymakers from certain agencies who would no longer have protection against being easily fired— and would likely include some veteran civil service scientists who offer key guidance to Congress and the White House.

  • Those agencies might handle the order differently, and it is unclear how many positions could fall under Schedule F — but some say possibly thousands.
  • “This much-needed reform will increase accountability in essential policymaking positions within the government,” OMB director Russ Vought tells Axios in a statement.

What they’re saying: Several medical associations, including the Infectious Diseases Society of America, strongly condemned the action, and Democrats on the House oversight panel demanded the administration “immediately cease” implementation.

  • “If you take how it’s written at face value, it has the potential to turn every government employee into a political appointee, who can be hired and fired at the whim of a political appointee or even the president,” says University of Colorado Boulder’s Roger Pielke Jr.
  • Protections for members of civil service allow them to argue for evidence-based decision-making and enable them to provide the best advice, says CRDF Global’s Julie Fischer, adding that “federal decision-makers really need access to that expertise — quickly and ideally in house.”

Between the lines: Politics plays some role in science, via funding, policymaking and national security issues.

  • The public health system is a mix of agency leaders who are political appointees, like HHS Secretary Alex Azar, and career civil servants not dependent on the president’s approval, like NIAID director Anthony Fauci.
  • “Public health is inherently political because it has to do with controlling the way human beings move around,” says University of Pennsylvania’s Jonathan Moreno.

Yes, but: The norm is to have a robust discussion — and what has been happening under the Trump administration is not the norm, some say.

  • “Schedule F is just remarkable,” Pielke says. “It’s not like political appointees editing a report, [who are] working within the system to kind of subvert the system. This is an effort to completely redefine the system.”
  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Stephen Morrison says that the administration has been defying normative practices, including statements denigrating scientists, the CDC and FDA.

The big picture: Public trust in scientists,which tends to be high, is taking a hit, not only due to messaging from the administration but also from public confusion over changes in guidance, which vacillated over masks and other suggestions.

  • Public health institutions “need to have the trust of the American people. In order to have the trust of the American people, they can’t have their autonomy and their credibility compromised, and they have to have a voice,” Morrison says.
  • “If you deny CDC the ability to have briefings for the public, and you take away control over authoring their guidance, and you attack them and discredit them so public perceptions of them are negative, you are taking them out of the game and leaving the stage completely open for falsehoods,” he adds.
  • “All scientists don’t agree on all the evidence, every time. But what we do agree on is that there’s a process. We look at what we know, we decide what we can clearly recommend based on what we know, sometimes when we learn more, we change our recommendations, and that’s the scientific process,” Fischer says.

What’s next: The scientific community is going to need to be proactive on rebuilding public trust in how the scientific process works and being clear when guidance changes and why it has changed, Fischer says.

Cartoon – Caught Not Wearing a Face Mask

Granlund cartoon: Face coverings - Opinion - Daily Review Atlas - Monmouth,  IL

COVID response leads voters’ healthcare concerns

https://mailchi.mp/f2794551febb/the-weekly-gist-october-23-2020?e=d1e747d2d8

The upcoming election has huge implications for healthcare, far beyond how COVID is managed, ranging from how care is covered to how it’s delivered. The graphic above shows a continuum of potential policy outcomes of the November 3rd vote.

If President Trump wins a second term and Republicans control at least one house of Congress, there will likely be more attempts to dismantle the ACA, as well as continued privatization of Medicare coverage.

 If Democrats win the presidency and sweep Congress, actions to expand the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or even create a national public option, are on the table—although major healthcare reform seems unlikely to occur until the second half of a Biden term.

In the short term, we’d expect to see more policy activity in areas of bipartisan agreement, like improving price transparency, ending surprise billing and lowering the cost of prescription drugs, regardless of who lands in the White House.
 
While healthcare emerged as the most important issue for voters in the 2018 midterm elections, the COVID pandemic has overshadowed the broader healthcare reform platforms of both Presidential candidates heading into the election. As shown in the gray box, many Americans view the election as a referendum on the Trump administration’s COVID response. Managing the pandemic is one of the most important issues for voters, especially Democrats, who now rank the issue above reducing the cost of healthcare or lowering the cost of drugs. 

In many aspects, the COVID policies of Biden and Trump are almost diametrically opposed, especially concerning the role of the federal government in organizing the nation’s pandemic response.

The next administration’s actions to prevent future COVID-19 surges, ensure safe a return to work and school, accelerate therapies, and coordinate vaccine delivery will remain the most important aspect of healthcare policy well into 2021.

Experts Slam The White House’s ‘Herd Immunity’ Plan

Experts warn Trump's misinformation about coronavirus is dangerous

The White House is reportedly embracing a herd-immunity approach focused on “protecting the elderly and the vulnerable” but experts are calling the plan dangerous, “unethical”, and equivalent to “mass murder”.

The news comes following a petition titled The Great Barrington Declaration, which argued against lockdowns and school and business closures and got almost 500,000 signatures – although some of them were fake.

“Current lockdown policies are producing devastating effects on short and long-term public health,” the declaration states, adding, “The most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity, is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk. We call this Focused Protection.”

Essentially, herd immunity is when enough people are immune to a disease, like Covid-19, that the disease can’t be transmitted as easily and thus provides indirect protection.

It’s been rumoured that the government has been leaning towards this plan of action for some time now, although this is the first real admission.

In response to today’s news, experts around the world have been voicing their concerns.

And this isn’t the first time we’ve heard experts say herd immunity is not a good idea.

For example, the head of the World Health Organization said Monday that allowing the novel coronavirus to spread in an attempt to reach herd immunity was “simply unethical.”

Similarly, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) director Francis Collins also denounced herd immunity as a viable plan.

“What I worry about with this is it’s being presented as if it’s a major alternative view that’s held by large numbers of experts in the scientific community. That is not true. This is a fringe component of epidemiology. This is not mainstream science. It fits into the political views of certain parts of our confused political establishment,” he said in an interview.

Not to mention studies continue to show that Sweden’s attempts at herd immunity have failed and have resulted in a higher Covid-19 death toll than expected.

As more research comes out, scientists are starting to learn that Covid-19 immunity, even in those who were severely infected, can fade after a few weeks.

This is why we’ve seen cases of reinfection and why many experts are advising against a herd immunity plan.  

Currently less than 10% of the population in the U.S. are immune to Covid-19 but for herd immunity to be achieved most experts estimate between 40% to 80% of the population would need to be infected.

To put that into context, that means around 197 million people would need to be infected in America. And assuming that the Covid-19 fatality rate is somewhere between 0.5% and 1%, based on numbers from the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 1 million people would die – at minimum.

William Haseltine, Chair and President of ACCESS Health International, told CNN “herd immunity is another word for mass murder. We are looking at two to six million Americans dead – not just this year but every year.”  

This is an unmitigated disaster for our country – to have people at the highest levels of our government countermanding our best public health officials. We know this epidemic can be put under control. Other countries have done it. We are doing the opposite.”

Shapes of Recovery: When Will the Global Economy Bounce Back?

Shapes of Recovery: When Will the Global Economy Bounce Back?

Visual Capitalist on Twitter: "Shapes of Recovery: When Will the Global  Economy Bounce Back? 📉📈 Full infographic and post:  https://t.co/40ABIBUFCx… "

The Shape of Economic Recovery, According to CEOs

Is the glass half full, or half empty?

Whenever the economy is put through the ringer, levels of optimism and pessimism about its potential recovery can vary greatly. The current state mid-pandemic is no exception.

This graphic first details the various shapes that economic recovery can take, and what they mean. We then dive into which of the four scenarios are perceived the most likely to occur, based on predictions made by CEOs from around the world.

The ABCs of Economic Recovery

Economic recovery comes in four distinct shapes—L, U, W, and V. Here’s what each of these are characterized by, and how long they typically last.

  • L-shape
    This scenario exhibits a sharp decline in the economy, followed by a slow recovery period. It’s often punctuated by persistent unemployment, taking several years to recoup back to previous levels.
  • U-shape
    Also referred to as the “Nike Swoosh” recovery, in this scenario the economy stagnates for a few quarters and up to two years, before experiencing a relatively healthy rise back to its previous peak.
  • W-shape
    This scenario offers a tempting promise of recovery, dips back into a sharp decline, and then finally enters the full recovery period of up to two years. This is also known as a “double-dip recession“, similar to what was seen in the early 1980s.
  • V-shape
    In this best-case scenario, the sharp decline in the economy is quickly and immediately followed by a rapid recovery back to its previous peak in less than a year, bolstered especially by economic measures and strong consumer spending.

Another scenario not covered here is the Z-shape, defined by a boom after pent-up demand. However, it doesn’t quite make the cut for the present pandemic situation, as it’s considered even more optimistic than a V-shaped recovery.

Depending on who you ask, the sentiments about a post-pandemic recovery differ greatly. So which of these potential scenarios are we really dealing with?

How CEOs Think The Economy Could Recover

The think tank The Conference Board surveyed over 600 CEOs worldwide, to uncover how they feel about the likelihood of each recovery shape playing out in the near future.

The average CEO felt that economic recovery will follow a U-shaped trajectory (42%), eventually exhibiting a slow recovery coming out of Q3 of 2020—a moderately optimistic view.

However, geography seems to play a part in these CEO estimates of how rapidly things might revert back to “normal”. Over half of European CEOs (55%) project a U-shaped recovery, which is significantly higher than the global average. This could be because recent COVID-19 hotspots have mostly shifted to other areas outside of the continent, such as the U.S., India, and Brazil.

Here’s how responses vary by region:

Region L-shape U-shape W-shape V-shape
Global (N=606) 32% 42% 16% 11%
U.S. (N=103) 26% 42% 23% 9%
Europe (N=110) 29% 55% 12% 4%
China (N=122) 25% 43% 11% 21%
Japan (N=95) 49% 26% 23% 1%
Gulf Region (N=16) 57% 26% 17%

 

In the U.S. and Japan, 23% of CEOs expect a second contraction to occur, meaning that economic activity could undergo a W-shape recovery. Both countries have experienced quite the hit, but there are stark differences in their resultant unemployment rates—15% at its peak in the U.S., but a mere 2.6% in Japan.

In China, 21% of CEOs—or one in five—anticipate a quick, V-shaped recovery. This is the most optimistic outlook of any region, and with good reason. Although economic growth contracted by 6.8% in the first quarter, China has bounced back to a 3.2% growth rate in the second quarter.

Finally, Gulf Region CEOs feel the most pessimistic about potential economic recovery. In the face of an oil shock57% predict the economy will see an L-shaped recovery that could result in depression-style stagnation in years to come.

The Economic Recovery, According to Risk Analysts

At the end of the day, CEO opinions are all over the map on the potential shape of the economic recovery—and this variance likely stems from geography, cultural biases, and of course the status of their own individual countries and industries.

Despite this, portions of all cohorts saw some possibility of an extended and drawn-out recovery. Earlier in the year, risk analysts surveyed by the World Economic Forum had similar thoughts, projecting a prolonged recession as the top risk of the post-COVID fallout.

It remains to be seen whether this will ultimately indeed be the trajectory we’re in store for.

 

 

 

CDC pulls revised guidance on coronavirus from website

https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/517387-cdc-says-revised-guidance-on-airborne-coronavirus-transmission-posted-in

National coronavirus updates: CDC provides detailed guidance on reopening -  ExpressNews.com

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Monday pulled revised guidance from its website that had said airborne transmission was thought to be the main way the coronavirus spreads, saying it was “posted in error.”

The sudden change came after the new guidance had been quietly posted on the CDC website on Friday.

“CDC is currently updating its recommendations regarding airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19),” the CDC wrote. “Once this process has been completed, the update language will be posted.”

The CDC guidance on the coronavirus is now the same as it was before the revisions.

The change and the the reversal comes as the CDC comes under extensive scrutiny over whether decisions by and guidance from government scientists are being affected by politics.

Just last week, President Trump contradicted CDC Director Robert Redfield on the timing of a vaccine and the necessity of wearing masks. 

Public health experts were pleased with the updated guidance, saying evidence shows COVID-19 can be spread through the air and that the public should be made aware of that fact. 

The World Health Organization issued a warning in July, saying that coronavirus could be spread through people talking, singing and shouting after hundreds of scientists released a letter urging it to do so.

The CDC said the guidance posted Friday was a “draft version of proposed changes.”

It is not clear if that draft will eventually become the CDC’s guidance, or if it will go through additional changes.

CNN first reported the new guidance on Sunday.

The now-deleted guidance had noted that the coronavirus could spread through airborne particles when an infected person “coughs, sneezes, sings, talks or breaths.”

“There is growing evidence that droplets and airborne particles can remain suspended in the air and be breathed in by others, and travel distances beyond 6 feet (for example, during choir practice, in restaurants, or in fitness classes),” the agency had written. “In general, indoor environments without good ventilation increase this risk.”

“These particles can be inhaled into the nose, mouth, airways, and lungs and cause infection,” the deleted guidance said. “This is thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”

 

 

 

 

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C.D.C. Tells States How to Prepare for Covid-19 Vaccine by Early November

As President Trump pushes the possibility of a vaccine this year, the C.D.C. has outlined technical scenarios to state public health officials for an unidentified Vaccine A and Vaccine B.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has notified public health officials in all 50 states and five large cities to prepare to distribute a coronavirus vaccine to health care workers and other high-risk groups as soon as late October or early November.

The new C.D.C. guidance is the latest sign of an accelerating race for a vaccine to ease a pandemic that has killed more than 184,000 Americans. The documents were sent out on the same day that President Trump told the nation in his speech to the Republican National Convention that a vaccine might arrive before the end of the year.

Over the past week, both Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, and Dr. Stephen Hahn, who heads the Food and Drug Administration, have said in interviews with news organizations that a vaccine may be available for certain groups before clinical trials have been completed, if the data is overwhelmingly positive.

Public health experts agree that agencies at all levels of government should urgently prepare for what will eventually be a vast, complex effort to vaccinate hundreds of millions of Americans. But the possibility of a rollout in late October or early November has heightened concerns that the Trump administration is seeking to rush the distribution of a vaccine — or simply to hype that one is possible — before Election Day on Nov. 3.

For an administration that has struggled with the logistical challenges of containing the coronavirus, the distribution of millions of vaccines that must be stored in subzero temperatures and provided first to high-risk groups through America’s flawed, fragmented health care system would be a daunting challenge. Even the C.D.C.’s guidance acknowledged that its plan was hypothetical and based on the need to immediately begin organizing the gigantic effort that would be required if the F.D.A. were to allow the use of a vaccine or two this year.

The C.D.C. plans lay out technical specifications for two candidates described as Vaccine A and Vaccine B, including requirements for shipping, mixing, storage and administration. The details seem to match the products developed by Pfizer and Moderna, which are the furthest along in late-stage clinical trials. On Aug. 20, Pfizer said it was “on track” for seeking government review “as early as October 2020.”

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“This timeline of the initial deployment at the end of October is deeply worrisome for the politicization of public health and the potential safety ramifications,” said Saskia Popescu, an infection prevention epidemiologist based in Arizona. “It’s hard not to see this as a push for a pre-election vaccine.”

Three documents were sent to public health officials in all states and territories as well as officials in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Houston and San Antonio on Aug. 27. They outlined detailed scenarios for distributing two unidentified vaccine candidates, each requiring two doses a few weeks apart, at hospitals, mobile clinics and other facilities offering easy access to the first targeted recipients.

The guidance noted that health care professionals, including long-term care employees, would be among the first to receive the product, along with other essential workers and national security employees. People 65 or older, as well as Native Americans and those who are from “racial and ethnic minority populations” or incarcerated — all communities known to be at greater risk of contracting the virus and experiencing severe disease — were also prioritized in the documents.

That’s a positive development, “so it doesn’t just all wind up in high-income, affluent suburbs,” said Dr. Cedric Dark, an emergency medicine physician at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas.

The C.D.C. noted in its guidance that “limited Covid-19 vaccine doses may be available by early November 2020.” The documents were dispatched the same day that Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the C.D.C., sent a letter to governors asking them to prepare vaccine distribution sites by Nov. 1, as McClatchy reported.

The agency also said its plans were as yet hypothetical, noting, “The Covid-19 vaccine landscape is evolving and uncertain, and these scenarios may evolve as more information is available.” A C.D.C. spokeswoman confirmed that the documents were sent but declined to comment further.

Many of the details listed for the two vaccines — including required storage temperature, the number of days needed between doses, and the type of medical center that can accommodate the product’s storage — match what Pfizer and Moderna have said about their products, which are based on so-called mRNA technology. Neither company responded to requests for comment.

The scenarios, which assume that the two vaccines will demonstrate sufficient safety and effectiveness for an emergency authorization from the F.D.A. by the end of October, noted that Vaccine A, which seems to match Pfizer’s, would have about two million doses ready within this time frame, and that Vaccine B, whose description matches Moderna’s, would have about one million doses ready, with tens of millions of doses of each vaccine ready by the end of the year. Although it’s possible that some promising preliminary data may emerge by the end of October, experts are skeptical.

“The timeline that’s reported seems a bit ambitious to me,” Dr. Dark said. “October’s like 30 days away.”

Trials that test a vaccine’s effectiveness can take years to yield reliable results. It’s possible to draw conclusions sooner “if there is an overwhelming effect” in which vaccinated people appear to be far better protected from disease, said Padmini Pillai, a vaccine researcher and immunologist at M.I.T.

But there can be significant risks in approving a vaccine for broad use in the public before Phase 3 clinical trials involving tens of thousand of participants are completed. Rare but dangerous side effects may only surface over time, after such large numbers of people have received the vaccine.

And data gathered early in a trial might not hold true months down the line. Researchers also need time to test large numbers of people from a variety of backgrounds to determine how well the vaccine works in different populations — including the vulnerable communities identified in the guidelines.

Should any of these snags occur, Dr. Pillai said, “all of this together could diminish public trust in the vaccine.”

James S. Blumenstocksenior vice president of pandemic response and recovery at the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, confirmed that the three C.D.C. documents were sent to all state and territorial health departments last week. “It is now the time to enhance organizational structure and involve all partners in this planning process going forward,” he said.

Lisa Stromme, a spokeswoman for the Washington State Department of Health, said that her state’s health officials were still at “a very early stage in a planning process,” but were already working toward developing infrastructure that would accommodate the assumptions laid out by the C.D.C.

The C.D.C. documents said that public health administrators should review lessons learned from the 2009 H1N1 pandemic vaccination campaign, which did not have enough doses at the beginning to meet demand.

“It’s good to have a plan out for hospitals and health care systems to prepare” for a potential rollout, said Dr. Taison Bell, a pulmonary and critical care physician at the University of Virginia. But Dr. Bell added that he was concerned that the timeline outlined in the documents “is incredibly ambitious and makes me worry that the administration will prioritize this arbitrary deadline rather than maintaining diligence with following the science.”

The technical comparison of Vaccine A and Vaccine B has some echoes of what was discussed at an Aug. 26 meeting of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the C.D.C. At the meeting, Dr. Kathleen Dooling, a C.D.C. medical officer, laid out three scenarios: Vaccine A, or the Pfizer vaccine, is approved, Vaccine B, the Moderna vaccine, is approved, or both. The requirement that Pfizer’s vaccine be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius would mean that it couldn’t be administered at most small sites, she said. The C.D.C. documents noted that orders of Vaccine A would go “to large administration sites only.” The Moderna vaccine requires storage at minus 20 degrees Celsius.

The C.D.C. documents said the vaccine would be free to patients, but that providers might not be reimbursed for administrative costs if the vaccine was given an emergency authorization, rather than a standard approval.

Experts worry that the process is unlikely to go off without a hitch, given the last-minute scramble and the mixed messaging so far. “I think distribution is going to be very tricky for the vaccine, particularly if there is a cold storage requirement,” Dr. Bell said.

There are also likely to be challenges administering both doses of the proposed vaccines, which must be given weeks apart, Dr. Dark said. “How are you going to make sure people get both?”