CORONAVIRUS USA

Trump officials influenced CDC reports on Covid-19

Trump administration officials interfered with and changed the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s weekly scientific reports on Covid-19.

Trump officials influenced CDC reports on Covid-19
ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS AFP

It has been claimed that politically-appointed aides have been revising and making changes to Covid-19 reports put together by health experts at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Weekly reports from the CDC (MMWR) were occasionally altered or reworded to bring them in line with the positive messages about the Covid-19 pandemic coming out of the White House, Politico reports.

Emails from aides to CDC Director Robert Redfield and other senior health officials, openly criticised the CDC for undermining Trump’s positive spin on the coronavirus crisis in the United States, despite it being the country to have recorded by far the most confirmed cases, 6,446,933 and the most deaths, 193,070 from Covid-19.

Caputo appointed in April

Michael Caputo, who was a member of Trump’s 2016 campaign team, was appointed Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) at the start of April. As HHS spokesman, Caputo is alleged to have demanded to see the MMWR reports before publication and put CDC employees under pressure to change the wording of sentences or tone down reports to make them less negative.

The MMWR Weekly reports are authored by scientists and published by the CDC. Their purpose is to inform doctors, medical professionals and researchers and offer statistics, data and trends on all aspects of health issues in the United States. The MMWR Weekly report is also in the public domain and can be reprinted without permission – all reports dating back to 1982 are available on the CDC’s online database. Notable MMWR Weekly articles included a report on AIDS in 1981 and an alert on lead-contaminated drinking water in Washington in 2001. The MMWR Weekly reports have always been published without any kind of interference from political parties – until now.

Covid-19 and the risks posed to children

Caputo, a former Republican operative who comes from neither a medical nor a scientific background, has allegedly modified MMWR reports to play down the health risks associated with Covid-19 or sometimes block certain articles from being included at all. In an email sent to CDC Director Robert Redfield which Politico has gained access to, Paul Alexander, a member of Caputo’s team accused CDC scientists of deliberately using the reports “as hit pieces to hurt the President”. In the same email, Alexander asked Redfield to make changes to two reports which had already been published online, claiming that they were “misleading” and wrongly inflated Coronavirus’ risks to children - consequently hindering Trump’s plans to reopen schools.

Alexander also requested that publication of all future MMWR reports should be halted “immediately” adding that the publication process should be completely revamped to enable him to review and edit reports before they were published. "The reports must be read by someone outside of CDC like myself; and we cannot allow the reporting to go on as it has been, for it is outrageous. Its lunacy," Alexander wrote in one email to Redfield. "Nothing to go out unless I read and agree with the findings how they CDC, wrote it and I tweak it to ensure it is fair and balanced and complete".

When Politico approached Caputo to ask why he and his team were demanding changes to MMWR reports, Caputo responded with a statement in which he heaped praise on Alexander, who he hailed as "an Oxford-educated epidemiologist who specializes in analysing the work of other scientists".

Trump loyalists try to keep Dr. Fauci quiet

The leaked emails come just one day after it was revealed that Alexander and other members of Caputo’s team were seeking to muzzle Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, Dr. Anthony Fauci from speaking about the risks of Covid-19 to children.