A blatantly partisan report by the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis complains, among other things, that Donald Trump took some positions regarding the pandemic that were contrary to the advice of public health officials and other experts. In my view, this grievance was mostly untrue and, in cases where it had a foundation, isn’t damning. I also wrote that “I look forward to a House report from a GOP majority scrutinizing Biden’s ineffective response to the pandemic.”
Such a report might include the fact that, in the words of this Washington Post opinion piece, “the Biden administration has sidelin[ed] vaccine experts.”
The authors of the article are Philip R. Krause and Luciana Borio. Krause is a former deputy director of the FDA’s office of vaccines research and review. Borio is a former acting chief scientist at the FDA.
The U.S. government, over the past few weeks, has made three important decisions on vaccines without consulting independent panels of experts. On Nov. 19, the Food and Drug Administration authorized boosters for all adults — regardless of their job or any underlying health conditions. On Nov. 29, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that everyone 18 and above should get a booster shot, a revision of previous guidance that strongly recommended boosters only for those 50 and older. Then, on Dec. 9, the FDA authorized booster shots (of Pfizer) for 16- and 17-year-olds, moving the age of eligibility down from 18.
Before last month, the standard practice was for the agencies to convene standing outside advisory committees, whose members inspect the relevant data, debate it and vote. That did not happen in these cases, meaning that the costs and benefits of these policy moves, from a medical perspective, were not fully aired publicly and discussed in advance. . . .
We believe that much is lost when decisions like these are made without consulting outside experts — whatever one believes about the merits of the policies in question.
I agree. The Biden administration shouldn’t feel bound by what outside experts say, but it should certainly hear their views, as has been the standard practice.
According to Krause and Borio, each of the vaccination decisions in question is controversial. For example:
Helen Branswell, a senior writer for the health and science publication STAT News, tweeted that the FDA had “authorized Pfizer booster shots for 16- & 17-years olds, without asking its vax expert panel for advice.” She added, “This approach sidesteps what would likely have been lengthy discussion about myocarditis” — an uncommon side effect of the mRNA vaccines, which had drawn careful study in earlier steps of the approval process.
This renders laughable the FDA’s question-begging explanation for not consulting outside experts — that approving boosters for 16- and 17-year-olds “does not raise questions that would benefit from additional discussion by committee members.”
That’s bureaucratize for “shut up, he explained.”
Biden’s unwillingness to receive input on vaccinations from those who, under standard procedure, normally provide it could undermine public confidence in the three important decisions cited by Krause and Borio. More generally, it undermines Biden’s claim that his administration “follows the science.”
“Cherry picks the science” would be a more accurate characterization.
UPDATE: For more on Biden’s cherry picking see this column by Dr. Marty Makary, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.