Health Viewpoints

Are COVID Politics Causing a Public Health Brain Drain?

Top scientists making quiet exits out of embarrassment about 'bad science' driving policy have left these agencies without leadership
BY Health 1+1, Marina Zhang and Enrico Trigoso TIMEJuly 31, 2022 PRINT

Dr. Tracy Beth Høeg describes herself as “pro-evidence.” Having practiced rehabilitation medicine and holding a PhD in epidemiology and public health, she was conscious of statistics and closely following the public health messaging around COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.

Høeg was not against vaccination for high-risk groups and recommended vaccines when they first rolled out for adults. But she questioned vaccination mandates, especially for children who had already been infected. She questioned lockdowns, school closures, mask mandates, and testing of students. She examined studies that measured safety and efficacy data for children—who are at low risk for COVID​​—and found that they contradicted public health policies.

“Post-vax myocarditis was clearly above baseline at the end of May. We are standing on shaky ground if we say the risk to otherwise healthy kids from COVID-19 is higher than it is from the vaccine,” she posted to Twitter on June 10, 2021.

Within seconds, Twitter flagged her tweet as “misleading,” to which Høeg wrote “I’m quoting the CDC’s [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] own slides.”

Since the beginning of the pandemic, she has been carefully tracking the health decisions, keen to draw attention to discrepancies.

“In terms of the decisions that [health authorities] were making…I was just so angry, and I felt like I couldn’t do anything,” Høeg said. “That’s why I started doing the research that I did, because someone has to do something.”

Høeg was far from alone. On July 14, she and co-author Dr. Marty Makary, Johns Hopkins professor and public policy researcher, published an article about the exodus of top scientists at the CDC, Food and Drugs Administration (FDA), and the National Institute of Health (NIH). It’s rife with anonymous interviews with despairing doctors and silenced scientists.

The reader is left with the impression motivation is all political: “it’s like a horror movie I’m being forced to watch and I can’t close my eyes,” one senior FDA official lamented. “People are getting bad advice and we can’t say anything.”

Another CDC scientist told Høeg and Makary: “I used to be proud to tell people I work at the CDC. Now, I’m embarrassed.”

In 126 pages of FDA emails obtained by the Judicial Watch, it was revealed that the top FDA officials felt pressured by the White House and vaccine companies to authorize boosters.

According to the widely read piece by Høeg and Makary, the scientists are embarrassed because of all the bad science. But they’re silent because of the swift repercussions that come with speaking out.

“I almost canceled the interview,” Høeg told The Epoch Times on the phone call, “an anonymous person…called my work and was threatening me over voicemail…about my moral transgressions.”

“Everyone in our office has been warned about their associations with me and it makes it very hard for doctors to speak out.”

Makary and Høeg’s study painted a despairing image of scientists choosing to not verbalize arguments that contradicted the main public health agenda, trying to not catch attention so that they could survive to retirement.

“[The health authorities] basically either silence people or push them out until they quit,” Høeg said. “It’s a very select group of people that are working there.”

Threats, Attacks, and Censorship

There are many doctors who are in positions that make it hard for them to question health policies, said Høeg. These doctors may be funded by the NIH or hold positions in universities, and risk losing their jobs from speaking out.

Speaking from her experience, Høeg believes that the shaming culture on social media is discouraging doctors from speaking out.

“There’s no room for nuance…as soon as you say something that is slightly nuanced and not 100 percent vaccinate everyone with multiple boosters, you’re labeled as a ‘[COVID] minimizer.’”

Doctors also have concerns about being labeled political and losing respect, labeled right wing or pro-Trump for speaking against the public health agenda.

“I think there should have been more open discussions,” Høeg said, “and not this sort of attack via social media.”

Høeg primarily posts on Twitter, and no longer posts to Facebook.

“I’ve been continuously censored by Facebook, to the point where I left because I would just write something and then it would just be erased. I could tell that I was on some sort of list,” she said. “There were physicians who were against what I was writing, [they] would come write things on my timeline, and I didn’t want family friends to see what I was dealing with.”

Despite the difficulties she is facing, Høeg is adamant about continuing to inform the public of more nuanced discussions on COVID-19.

However, her online label of “COVID-19 minimizer” has also followed her into real life.

‘COVID Minimizer’

Høeg was testifying against California SB 1479 senate bill on June 12, 2022. The bill was sponsored by seven democrat senators, of whom, Dr. Richard Pan, a pediatrician, is the author of the bill. If passed, the bill would require schools to run daily COVID-19 tests for students.

“I spoke a lot to the data,” Høeg said.

At the panel, Høeg cited a study that found rapid antigen testing would miss COVID-19 positive students in their first three days of transmission. Therefore, when students are tested positive, they may have already transmitted the infection to everyone around them.

Most rapid antigen tests are also inaccurate, and Hoeg argued that over 70 percent of asymptomatic students that test positive may not have the disease.

“Spending over a billion dollars per year on COVID-19 school testing program would be a net harm, and it would not achieve its intended goals. This is due to the simple fact that COVID-19 is about 20 times more likely to be spread outside of schools than inside and because rapid tests…are highly inaccurate,” Høeg said at the panel.

“We have never tested for seasonal respiratory viruses in schools before…COVID now has a lower infection hospitalization risk than influenza for children, and for adults it’s now similar to influenza, so we are at a different stage in the pandemic now.”

Pan responded to Høeg’s arguments by calling her “COVID minimizer.”

“So I know that one of the witnesses is a well-known COVID minimizer,” he said, “but COVID is a serious disease in children.”

Høeg said that she wasn’t allowed to talk after that.

“This is not the way that science should happen. I’m not saying that I’m right about everything,” she said. “Rather than people having discussions, ideas are being silenced, and the discussions are not being had, and so we’re just not making progress.”

“The people who are saying we need to do the maximum…for Covid all the time, every year, for the rest of our lives, [if] they’re the only ones who are allowed to speak, then that’s really problematic.”

The bill has since passed the Senate at 11 to 3 with one abstention, though it is currently suspended in the state assembly.

Medical Associations Join the Narrative

Governmental bodies were not the only major organizations to play politics with pandemic measures. Organizations providing medical certifications have been vocal participants as well.

For Dr. James A. Thorp, a certified obstetrician-gynecologist of over 40 years, his biggest concern was “rolling out an experimental mRNA vaccination without a legitimate randomized controlled prospective trial.” As an accredited member of the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ABOG), Thorp has been threatened twice for speaking against COVID-19 vaccinations.

The ABOG released a statement in July 2022, stating that misinformation and disinformation on COVID-19 may cause a loss of “eligibility to gain or maintain ABOG certification.”

“This was classic gaslighting,” Thorp wrote to The Epoch Times in a text, “punishing anyone that questioned their fake science.”

Early Treatment

Thorp condemned the decision to abandon early treatment “despite ample evidence in every prior disease throughout the history of medicine that early treatment equates to improved outcomes.”

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Food and Drug Administration condemned generic drugs such as ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine for use in treating COVID-19, despite overwhelming data favoring their uses.

Physicians were also warned against prescribing ivermectin for COVID-19 and many media outlets were quick to condemn the “misinformation” of ivermectin ($4.70 per pill) and hydroxychloroquine ($1.20 per pill) as COVID-19 treatments.

The attack on generic drugs left no drugs for early treatment.

This created an image that there was no treatment for COVID-19—apart from vaccination—once people were infected, the general advice was to rest and hydrate, and treat their symptoms with analgesics. Hospitalized patients were treated with remdesivir ($390 per vial) if their conditions were serious.

Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) observed that the treatments that were discouraged by the health authorities were cheap and cost in the $10s and $30s, whereas the drugs that were approved cost in the hundreds to thousands of dollars, implying that financial reasons may be at play.

The lack of immune protection and treatment at the start of the pandemic, led to high death tolls in many high risk demographics. Currently, around 6.4 million people have died from COVID-19 worldwide.

Paxlovid ($530 per person) was rolled out in December 2021 as a treatment option during the course of COVID-19, but was soon linked with rebounding COVID-19 cases.

Despite multiple attempts at discrediting the safety of ivermectin and other “controversial drugs,” Dr. Ben Marble, a Floridian family doctor for over 20 years, started a website (myfreedoctor.com) that would connect COVID-19 patients with a doctor who would prescribe these medications.

The early treatment regimen included ivermectin, hydroxychloroquine, monoclonal antibodies, prednisone, budesonide, vitamin D, vitamin C, zinc and placidin.

At Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI)’s panel discussion on Jan. 25, 2022, Marble said that the 150,000 COVID-19 patients they treated had an overall survival rate of 99.99 percent.

“The science is conclusive and irrefutable: early treatment of COVID-19 with nutraceuticals, vitamins, and safe repurposed drugs are at least 90 percent (if not 99 percent) successful in treating COVID-19,” Thorp wrote.

“I believe that myfreedoctor.com; the free volunteer doctor team, we have settled the science on this. Early treatment works, period,” said Marble.

Eroded Public Trust

Høeg lamented that health authorities such as the CDC would not take accountability for their mistakes and apologize.

“Denmark has said it was a mistake to vaccinate children under 16. I don’t see that happening here. I think that apologizing or simply admitting uncertainty would do a lot to improve trust in public health authorities.”

“I think…people feel like the CDC is talking down to them, [as] if they don’t get the data or that they’re just not smart enough to understand what’s going on…and I think people very quickly see through that.”

Epoch Times Photo
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks in Washington on June 16, 2022. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

She said that the messages in Europe have been “much more nuanced,” showing uncertainty and discussion in their statements rather than “pretending like they know things with great certainty when they don’t.”

“The public health agencies in the US have really become politicized and…there is a lot of influence from the pharmaceutical industry. They’re not…independent organizations that stick to the data anymore, they’re politically influenced and they’re saying things to get people to basically do what they want them to do rather than focusing on what the data actually show,” Høeg said.

Høeg was the senior author in a CDC study on school reopenings in Wisconsin.

The study found that a vast majority of infections in students and teachers actually came from community transmissions rather than in school, with less than 4 percent of infections tracing back to the school.

Høeg’s study was one of the most cited CDC studies, but after publishing her findings, “the CDC actually made it more difficult to open schools…it didn’t make sense.”

In the February 2021 guidance on school reopenings, the CDC asked for six-feet between students rather than three feet apart.

“They could have asked us, the scientists who did the study; how far apart were the children sitting in the schools where you did your study, but they didn’t have, so we had to publish a pre-print in the hopes they would eventually do away with the arbitrary and unnecessary requirement of 6 feet of distance, that was keeping millions of children either completely out of school or with limited in person hours.”

Later reports by the New York Post implied teacher unions were involved in the decisions rather than the scientists, with the unions possibly even framing the wording of the announcement.

Recently, Høeg also had difficulty publishing expanded analysis data on masks in the CDC’s journal, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

She and her co-author, Ambarish Chandra, a professor of Economics at the University of Toronto, failed to find a relationship between school mask mandates and pediatric case rates; her study expanded on a study previously published by the CDC which found opposing results with a much smaller dataset. Her larger analysis failed to find a significant relationship between school mask mandates and pediatric cases.

“The CDC didn’t say their rejection had anything to do with our methodology, but they said that…they thought we could just use more space to expand upon what we did, which didn’t really make sense. I suspect the results we found simply didn’t fit with the message they are trying to convey and that is now how science should be done.”

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times. Epoch Health welcomes professional discussion and friendly debate. To submit an opinion piece, please follow these guidelines and submit through our form here.

Health 1+1
Health 1+1 is the most authoritative Chinese medical and health information platform overseas. Every Tuesday to Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. EST on TV and online, the program covers the latest on the coronavirus, prevention, treatment, scientific research and policy, as well as cancer, chronic illness, emotional and spiritual health, immunity, health insurance, and other aspects to provide people with reliable and considerate care and help. Online: EpochTimes.com/Health TV: NTDTV.com/live
Marina Zhang
Marina Zhang is based in New York and covers health and U.S. news. Contact her at marina.zhang@epochtimes.com.
Enrico Trigoso
Enrico Trigoso is an Epoch Times reporter focusing on the NYC area.
You May Also Like