by Christian Datoc | August 03, 2021
The Biden administration’s rollout of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest mask guidance split senior officials into rival camps: those who encourage new action as the situation changes versus those worried about undermining the vaccines.
Multiple Biden administration officials expressed frustration to the Washington Examiner about media coverage the new guidance received, arguing it “exacerbated” the political debate about health policy.
Two officials noted the administration remains concerned about the rise of the delta variant and breakthrough infections but added those same studies prove the “vaccines work.”
“Even when you do have breakthrough infections, less than 1% are resulting in hospitalizations or severe cases, and the mortality rate is effectively zero,” one official said. “Maybe focus on that instead of trying to write the worst possible headline.”
A third official added vaccine confusion sparked by the past week’s coverage will make it harder to convince the remaining sizable portion of the public who have not yet been vaccinated to get the shot.
“The longer it takes these populations to get vaccinated, the greater the chance the virus could mutate into a new strain the vaccines can’t protect against,” that person explained. “All the progress we’ve made could end up down the drain. We’d be right back in 2020.”
Yet another Biden administration official suggested Republicans could use the mixed messaging from the administration as campaign ammunition heading into the 2022 midterm elections. Some GOP politicians have already started doing that by highlighting a “flawed” study cited by the CDC in making its determination.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and nine other GOP senators introduced the Restore Public Health Institution Trust Act on Thursday that “would require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) decision making and messaging surrounding its reversal on mask guidance for fully vaccinated Americans.”
“These guidelines, like most of the Biden Administration’s actions these days, make little sense and seem without scientific direction,” Rubio added in a statement. “Americans have spent the last year and a half making tremendous sacrifices to halt the virus’s spread, but they are confused and have lost trust in our institutions. The mixed messaging could also degrade trust in the efficacy of vaccines. My bill would bring more transparency to the CDC’s decisions, and direct GAO to offer recommendations on ways the CDC needs to improve their decision making process and the way they communicate recommendations.”
In the House, Rep. Jason Smith of Missouri and 20 other Republicans sent a letter to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky Friday morning claiming the new guidance undercuts messaging that vaccinations are an effective tool for mitigating coronavirus spread.
“We are aware many states are currently experiencing a significant increase in COVID-19 infections because of the transmissibility of the Delta variant. As Members of Congress, we are concerned by this case increase and support state led efforts to increase vaccinations and mitigate the spread. However, at this time we believe more stringent mask guidance will be ineffective and discourage vaccine uptake,” the letter reads, according to a copy obtained by the Washington Examiner. “Your most recent guidance has been issued despite definitive scientific evidence showing the vaccine is effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19, and for those breakthrough cases that do occur, hospitalization and death are almost completely prevented. In fact, the study used by the CDC was rejected in peer review and was based off data from a vaccine that is not approved in the United States.”
“In other words, the decision was based off zero scientific evidence showing transmission among individuals who have received a U.S. approved vaccine,” the letter continues. “Your agency’s arbitrary reversal of mask guidance for vaccinated individuals will result in further vaccine hesitancy because it falsely implies the available COVID-19 vaccines are not effective.”
Several Biden administration figures, including several retweeted by White House chief of staff Ron Klain, publicly voiced similar objections in recent days.
It’s worth noting the country hit Biden’s July 4 vaccine milestone of partially vaccinating 70% of eligible adults on Monday.
Politico reported Monday the discussions leading up to the CDC’s latest guidance pitted Walensky and other health advisers, who argued that “doing nothing” in response to the rising delta variant and breakthrough infections was “not an option,” against White House staff who were concerned reversing mask recommendations could undermine the administration’s vaccine outreach efforts.
The White House previously attempted to distance Biden from the CDC’s new guidance.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki stressed to reporters during a briefing the president “since the beginning of June,” warned people “the delta variant from the beginning had a greater deal of transmissibility and was a threat to people who were unvaccinated.”
“He made clear that you are protected from serious illness, disease, or hospitalization if you were vaccinated,” she continued. “That remains the case, and he encouraged people who were not vaccinated to get vaccinated. But again, the role of the federal government and our public health officials is to continue to look at evolving data, evolving threats of a historic virus, provide that public health guidance to the American people to protect more people and save more lives.”