Health Highlights: Sept. 11, 2020

By on September 14, 2020

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Trump Appointees Interfering With CDC Reports on Pandemic

The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention has been under pressure from Trump administration appointees to delay, alter and even scrap weekly reports on the coronavirus pandemic that potentially make Trump look bad, current and former senior health officials say.

The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, described by one former top health official as the “holiest of the holy,” has been targeted for months by senior officials in the Department of Health and Human Services’ communications office, who’ve turned it into a political loyalty test, according to The New York Times.

The newspaper talked with current and former senior health officials who have direct knowledge of phone calls, emails and other communication between HHS and the CDC. They spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The weekly CDC reports are intended to update scientists and public health experts on infectious diseases trends, including COVID-19. It’s not clear if any reports have been significantly changed due to pressure from Trump appointees, but some important federal health studies have been delayed, the Times reported.

The political interference “undermines the credibility of not only the MMWR but of the CDC. And the CDC’s credibility has been tarnished throughout COVID already,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University.

“The MMWR had an unblemished reputation as being accurate, objective and science-based, free from political influence,” said Schaffner, who sits on the external editorial board of the MMWR, The Times reported.

The person most involved in checking the MMWR is Paul Alexander, an assistant professor of health research methods, evidence and impact at McMaster University, Canada, according to Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign official who became head of the HHS communications office in April.

Caputo said he hired Alexander to help him on the science of the pandemic.

“He digs into these MMWRs and makes his position known, and his position isn’t popular with the career scientists sometimes,” Caputo told the Times. “That’s called science. Disagreement is science. Nobody has been ever ordered to do anything. Some changes have been accepted, most have been rejected. It’s my understanding that that’s how science is played.”

But people with inside knowledge say Caputo and Alexander seem to regard the reports, which have included warnings about the spread of the virus, as damaging to the Trump administration, the Times reported.

For example, in an email obtained by Politico and confirmed by someone with direct knowledge of the message, Alexander accused CDC scientists of trying to “hurt the president” with the reports, which he called “hit pieces on the administration,” according to the newspaper.

Alexander asked CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield to edit already-published reports that Alexander believed overstated the risks of the virus for children and weakened the Trump administration’s push for schools to reopen, the Times reported.

Caputo and Alexander also tried to block the publication of a report — released last week after a delay — on the use of the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, an unproven treatment touted by Trump.

Caputo and Alexander questioned the political beliefs of the report’s authors, The Times reported.

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Coronavirus Vaccine Trial Resumes

A clinical trial for a coronavirus vaccine being developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca has been given the go-ahead to restart, the British university said Saturday.

The trial was halted a few days earlier after a reported side effect in a U.K. patient, but will resume at all U.K. sites after regulators gave the OK, the Associated Press reported.

The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is widely considered one of the leading contenders among dozens of coronavirus vaccines in various stages of testing worldwide.

One of those other vaccines is being developed by Pfizer, which says there’s a “good chance” it will know by the end of October whether the vaccine works, CBS News reported.

Pfizer head Albert Bourla also told “Face the Nation” that the company is preparing for approval from the federal government and distribution of a vaccine before the end of the year.

“We started already manufacturing and we have already manufactured hundreds of thousands of doses, so just in case we have a good study readout, conclusive and FDA, plus the advisory committee feels comfortable that we will be ready,” he said, CBS News reported.

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Canada Reports No New COVID-19 Deaths For First Time in Six Months

For the first time in six months, Canada on Friday reported no new COVID-19 deaths.

Reuters said the last time that happened was on March 15, at the start of pandemic-related lockdowns, CBS News reported.

As of Saturday, there had been 137,676 COVID-19 cases and 9,214 deaths from the illness in Canada, according to Johns Hopkins University.

As the situation improves: “I am reminded of the ways Canadians have pulled together to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, said in a statement, CBS News reported.

“We have been physically apart from each other in order to plank the curve, but we have found new ways to be together, and connected, while at a distance.”

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