Dr. Martin Kulldorff: How to Dismantle the ‘Cartel’ of Public Health Funding and Rekindle Open Scientific Inquiry
“New ideas always come from the fringe in science. So we have to encourage new ideas to come up. We can’t have science become a religion where there are dogmas.”
In this episode, filmed at Hillsdale College’s Censorship of Science conference, we sit down with Dr. Martin Kulldorff, an epidemiologist, biostatistician, and former professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. He’s a co-author of the Great Barrington Declaration that argued for “focused protection” of the vulnerable instead of lockdowns.
Kulldorff breaks down what he sees as the “power hubs” controlling policy, research funding, and career advancement in the scientific world.
“Dr. Fauci sort of sits on the biggest chunk of infectious disease research money in the world. So it takes a bit of guts to contradict his view on pandemic strategy.”
Kulldorff is the scientific director at the Brownstone Institute and a founding fellow at Hillsdale College’s Academy for Science and Freedom.
“I’m very concerned that 400 years of enlightenment or scientific progress may come to an end. And I think we have to work very hard to avoid that.”
Jan Jekielek: Dr. Martin Kulldorff, it’s such a pleasure to have you back on American Thought Leaders.
Dr. Martin Kulldorff: Thank you so much. It’s my pleasure.
Mr. Jekielek: We’re actually two years to the day now after 15 days to slow the spread was announced, as we’re filming right now, and I thought, what a good opportunity to get your reaction to this at this point.
Dr. Kulldorff: Yes. Maybe some people have a problem with mathematics because I think it’s been more than 15 days since two years ago. There were, obviously, reasons, at that time, to not overburden the healthcare system. So, it was important to flatten the curve, so that everybody did not get sick at the same time. But there was no reason to close schools or close universities.
Of course, education is important for our children, because we already knew back then that while anybody can get infected, there is more than a thousand fold difference in the risk of mortality from this disease, as well as a huge difference in hospitalizations. So, to minimize the burden of hospitals, the key thing was to protect the older people, because they are the one, who, if they are infected, will go to the hospitals.
So, we should have done more from the very beginning protecting older high-risk people while the children still go to school. So, there should never have been any school closures. And we know that from Sweden. Sweden had a big first wave in the spring of 2020. They never closed the daycare schools or limit between ages of one and 15. And among the 1.8 billion children, there were zero deaths during this first wave, and there were very few hospitalizations.
Also, Sweden did create field hospitals, but that was never used. Now, that was impossible to know at the time, so I think it was good to create that spare capacity, and it was good to encourage older people to be very careful and stay away from restaurants and crowds in order to flatten the curve. But closing schools, that was the wrong decision.
And unfortunately, if it had been only 15 days, there wouldn’t be that much harm to the children, but that went on for a long time. And there are many kids who had their schools closed for over a year. And even [at the] beginning of 2022, there were some places where the schools have been closed. This was very tragic for our children. This is something that we took away from our children that they’re never going to get it back.
Mr. Jekielek: When these policies were announced, right, how quickly did we know the data from Sweden? The Swedish data sounds very convincing, I guess, is the best way to put it.
At some point, there might have been an opportunity to reverse course, looking at that information.
Dr. Kulldorff: Yes. That’s what I thought would’ve happened. And of course, that happened in the neighboring Scandinavian countries and some other European countries, but not in the U.S. And that’s sort of stunning, because there were reports from Sweden that the Swedish public health agency put out in June or July 2020, but New England Journal of Medicine had an article later that summer where they looked at evidence for and against closing schools, and they didn’t even mention the Swedish data.
There was like one major western country who kept the schools open, and in evaluating whether that’s a good thing or not, “The New England Journal of Medicine,” they didn’t even mention that data. That’s like doing a trial for a new drug and not having a placebo to compare with. I have no idea why the journal would not include that type of information, because it was no secret, it was a public report.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, and then, this kind of speaks indirectly to the big question of what I want to talk to you about today, which is, there’s a whole kind of structure around how science is done. Specifically, of course, we’re looking at it through the angle of health science and public health and so forth, which, you’ve argued, needs dramatic reform, and that everything that’s happened over the last few years is an indicator of that.
Dr. Kulldorff: Well, I’m very concerned, and I’m very concerned that 400 years of enlightenment of scientific progress may come to an end. And I think we have to work very hard to avoid that, because science is important. It’s an important part of our culture and our civilization, and how we live and how we reason.
Mr. Jekielek: I’m going to jump in. Okay? So that is, of course, a very big thing to say—400 years of enlightenment coming to an end. What exactly are you seeing coming to an end?
Dr. Kulldorff: For science, you have to have open discourse—open discussions. I want scientists to have different views than I do on a topic. I want them to be able to express that, so I can learn from them and either change my view or argue against their views. And new ideas always come from the fringe in science.
So, we have to encourage new ideas to come up, and we can’t have science become a religion where there are dogmas, as it has been during this pandemic. We have had dogmas and things that are not based on science at all. And then, people who question it have been censored, slandered, or smeared. And that is something that has sort of come from the very top of the scientific establishment.
And the trust in science and the trust in public health has deteriorated. And for good reasons. You shouldn’t trust the system that’s not operating properly in a scientific manner. The major fatality of this pandemic has been all the people who have died. But another fatality has been science and public health and the trust in science and public health. And that’s something that we have to work very, very hard to restore, to deserve that trust again.
Mr. Jekielek: One of the reactions to people not trusting the system, increasingly, like you’re suggesting has been a much bigger focus on, I think, what they call fighting misinformation, which there is certainly a lot of misinformation out there and disinformation for that matter, not just misinformation. And just your quick thoughts on this.
Dr. Kulldorff: I don’t think we should have the misinformation police because I think scientists, and we have to have journals, and the public will sort of sort that out, if everybody’s allowed to express their view. We have a lot of things that are censored as misinformation, but then, we find out later it turned out to be true. And that’s very dangerous.
One example where science was wrong was in natural immunity after recovering from COVID infection. We have known that if you have had an infection, you will typically develop immunity, and then, that will protect you as you go forward. So, if you get infected a second time, you may not get infected at all, or you might have just a mild disease, because you now have an immune system that protects you. We have known these things for two and a half thousand years, since the Athenian plague in 430 BC.
And suddenly, we don’t. We sort of dismissed that. It’s thrown out of the window. We have a large group of scientists who, in the fall of 2020, wrote a petition that was published by “Lancet,” which is one of the most famous medical journals out of the UK, questioning natural immunity after recovering from COVID. We currently have a director of the CDC who was one of the signers of that petition.
And that’s pretty astonishing to have a CDC director who does not recognize natural immunity after having recovered from COVID. It’s pretty astonishing to have universities and university presidents and hospital presidents, including famous university hospital presidents who fire staff who have natural immunity from having recovered from COVID, which is superior to immunity from vaccines.
So, instead, they should, the hospitals should hire these people. Should hire nurses who have recovered from COVID, and use them for their most sensitive patients, the older in the geriatric wards or in the ICUs. Because they’re the ones who are least likely to spread COVID to these older, frail patients who we need to protect.
So, I can’t understand how universities and hospitals are firing the staff who are least likely to spread this disease.
Mr. Jekielek: Of course, the general situation is when there’s a disease, someone has the disease, they get through it, they get immunity. There was a suggestion that somehow COVID might be an outlier. I guess it’s not necessarily obvious to the layperson that they should just assume that, yes, natural immunity will be what will happen, right? Like, why are you so convinced 2,500 years?
Dr. Kulldorff: Well, that’s how most infectious diseases work. There are exceptions like AIDS, for example, and that’s how our whole immune system is built. When it comes to COVID, there are four other coronaviruses that are circulating endemically in the population, and we have immunity in all those four. So, there’s no reason to believe that COVID would act differently. We know… what vaccines do is sort of to try to mimic a natural infection without bad consequences of maybe dying.
So, the vaccine is meant to stimulate your own immune system. So, it would be shocking if the vaccine had better, gave better immunity than having recovered from the disease.
Mr. Jekielek: Yes.
Dr. Kulldorff: If it can do equally well, that’s a very successful vaccine. In terms of the COVID, three months after the start of the pandemic, we knew that there was protection for at least three months. Six months after the start of the pandemic, we knew there was protection for at least six months. A year after the start of the epidemic, we knew there was protection for at least a year.
We obviously didn’t have any studies comparing natural immunity to the vaccines before the vaccines were given. But in the summer of 2021, half a year after vaccines came on the market, we already knew from a study, for example in Israel, that if you were vaccinated, you had 27 times higher risk of a symptomatic infection compared to if you had recovered from COVID without being vaccinated.
And there were somewhat different numbers for hospitalizations. But for death, there were zero deaths in both groups. So, both vaccines and natural immunity protect you very well against death. And of course, now, we know that even if you have had the vaccine, you will eventually get COVID, and the pandemic will end. And that’s something we’ve said for a long time, the pandemic will end when most people have had COVID, and then, you have natural immunity, and then, it’ll be endemic and people will still get it.
But then, it will be milder until you’re 93 years old when maybe your immune system is very weak, and then, you might die from COVID after the fifth time of being infected, for example.
Mr. Jekielek: How is it that, today, we’re still questioning natural immunity as far as I can tell?
Dr. Kulldorff: I think the scientific structures are broken, science is broken and public health is broken. There are probably various aspects to that. So, we’ll take a step back and see how science operates, in terms of making a scientific career. So, there’s sort of three pillars to that. One is, to make a scientific career, you have to publish scientific papers, and that you put that on your CV. And then, that establishes you as a scientist.
And there are certain journals that are more prestigious to publish than others. “Lancet” that I mentioned, is one of them. “New England Journal of Medicine” is another more prestigious journal to publish them. And then, you have, of course, the editors there, and you have reviewers who control who gets to publish there, or what gets to be published.
And each area of science have sort of their own little group of people. My colleague, Dr. Sunetra Gupta at Oxford College said it’s like a cartel who sort of controls that, because they are the ones who have used the papers and they might be the associate editor and so on. And it’s important to publish in these journals if you want to have a career, because that’s sort of the currency of performance of scientists.
Then, you have… Another thing is funding of research. To do research, you get to be funded, but also, to put on your CV, you have to sort of say that you have good enough science to be able to get funding from the National Institute of Health, for example. So, that’s also very, sort of the second leg, or second part of it, that you have to get research funding as a principal investigator.
And then, the third leg is the promotions that are controlled by the universities. That’s the one that’s most decentralized. But even there, you need recommendation letters from, or evaluation letters from other people in your field, from other universities. So, you have the same group of people who are evaluating the grants, who are evaluating who should get published to the prestigious journals and who gets promoted. So, you have to be part of that group to succeed in science.
I think that leads to a lot of groupthink and people do not dare to go out on the edge, or on the fringe to voice views that are sort of contrary to the senior people who control what Dr. Gupta calls cartels. And it’s not like there’s one cartel for all of science. So, each sort of subsets of infectious disease technology will have this group of people. And it’s not just in medicine and public health, it’s in other areas also.
I think, in some areas, this works perfectly fine, because you have people who are very open-minded and who are coming to new ideas and new things. And in other areas, it doesn’t work very well, because those who have the controls, they might be more protective of their own views and so on.
So that can vary in different subfields of science. So, it becomes sort of a centralization of science. And we can see, actually, during the pandemic that some of the best research did not come from the U.S., the UK who sort of considered the powerhouses of science, that came from places like Qatar or Israel or Denmark or Sweden or Iceland. And I think the reason is that they are a little bit… They’re not removed from these cartels, but they’re a little bit on the periphery. Especially with the funding situation, they still have to publish in the same journals and so on, but in terms of the funding, they’re a little bit on the periphery.
I think that’s an indication that within the center of science in the U.S. and UK, there wasn’t this ability to do the research needed, or to get the knowledge that we needed to deal with this pandemic. I think that’s a bit because of this cartel system.
Mr. Jekielek: Let’s start with some of the research that wasn’t done that you would argue as obvious that should be done. I mean, there’s also research that was done, that was ignored. That’s kind of the second piece, we already talked a little bit about that. But let’s start with what research wasn’t done here that really is stark.
Dr. Kulldorff: So, one thing that wasn’t done… As soon as the pandemic started, we didn’t do the studies needed to find treatments. So, there are a lot of drugs that are existing drugs that might be used for other viruses or things. And many of them are generic, and we didn’t do the solid randomized trials to quickly determine if these work for COVID or not.
There were a bunch of smaller studies, but that was the job of NIH, the National Institute of Health, and specifically the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is part of NIH. They didn’t do those studies, and they should have. They should have done those studies for, at least, a dozen different existing drugs, to find out, within a few months, do they work or not for COVID?
So, there was one good study that was done for a drug and that was from Remdesivir. And the reason is that that’s proprietary. So, the company who owned Remdesivir decided it was worth all the money because it’s expensive to do these randomized control trials. They decided it was worth doing that, because if it was able to treat COVID, they will make a lot of money from this drug.
In the end, they did a very solid study showing that it doesn’t really work very well. It was still approved by FDA for some reason, but it doesn’t work very well. But that was the only drug for which there was a very solid, good study. And they should have done that for many other drugs.
And probably, most of them would’ve found out that maybe it didn’t work either, but that should be done to find out if there was one or two or three drugs that did work. And then, we wouldn’t have all these disagreements about various treatments whether they work or not. Because if there had been one large, solid randomized trial, we would’ve known one way or the other, and we wouldn’t have to quarrel about whether a particular drug works or not.
Mr. Jekielek: On this point a little, I understand there are a suite of drugs, which, at the moment, have shown promise, most of which are these repurposed drugs…
Dr. Kulldorff: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: … like one that just comes to mind, because I remember there was a smaller, maybe not the size of RCT, but like fluvoxamine. It was an antidepressant, I think, right? Was found to be effective in some kind of an RCT. But that wasn’t adopted very quickly as a kind of, hey everybody, this is what we can use now-type set up. Right?
Dr. Kulldorff: Yes. And I think if there had been large randomized control trials, it would’ve been giving a very clear answer and there would be more of a consensus of what drugs work or do not work. And the person who should have initiated these studies immediately as soon as the pandemic started was the director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, as well as the director of NIH, Francis Collins.
So, that was their responsibility to do that, to make sure that we found that knowledge. Now, there were other things that we didn’t study. For example, there were done small seroprevalence studies. So, this is to find out how many people have already had the disease, but checking if they have antibodies. For example, there was a very good study done in the spring of 2020 in Spain where they randomly selected 60,000 people of different ages. There were smaller studies done in other countries like Sweden or Iran or Japan or so on.
There was one, [an] important one done in Santa Clara by Jay Bhattacharya and others, which was, I think the most important one in the U.S. But this was a small study in one county, and what should have been done was to do continuous surveillance with randomly selecting people across the country at different times in different states, different cities, and different age groups. So to constantly monitor what the level of antibodies is.
But that’s not the responsibility of NIH because that’s more of a public health issue. So, that’s the responsibility of CDC, and they didn’t do that. So, that kind of research question CDC should have done, and they have plenty of money, huge budgets, a lot of staff. That should have been one of the priorities of CDC during a pandemic, and they didn’t do it.
Mr. Jekielek: Just as I’m hearing you now, I’m thinking to myself there’s a kind of a chain here, right? If natural immunity is not supposed to be important, then, doing the studies about how much natural immunity there is in the population might also not be important. So, these things aren’t isolated, what these different agencies did or didn’t do.
Dr. Kulldorff: Yes. I don’t know what they were thinking and maybe that’s not what they were thinking. I know in other countries, they did do some of these seroprevalence studies.
Mr. Jekielek: It strikes me that this model that Sunetra Gupta called ‘cartel model’ of doing science, it’s susceptible to, I think you said this earlier, groupthink, right? So if the group responsible for one area suddenly all believe a certain thing very strongly, for whatever reason, then, the system breaks down. I’m guessing that the corrections you see need to be made to the system somehow help deal with that.
Dr. Kulldorff: Yes. I think the key thing is to do decentralization, so that you don’t have these sort of power hubs. For example, in terms of the funding of science, we have… Dr. Fauci sort of sits on the biggest chunk of infectious disease research money in the world. So, it takes a little bit of guts to contradict his view on the pandemic strategy, because he might use resource funding which you need to support your family and to support other members of your lab or your research group who depend on these research funds. So, that was a conflict of interest, where the person who’s handing out the research funds is also the architect of the strategy, because, then, other scientists will not dare to question that strategy.
What should have happened is that… There really is a difference because NIH is the research arm of the federal government. So, they should have focused on making sure all the research was done that was needed to deal with the pandemic. But in terms of what public health strategy to use, that’s not the role of NIH. That’s the role of the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
So, that should have been separated, which it wasn’t because Anthony Fauci stepped in and did the job of CDC, which was not his job. And to be honest, as a virologist and immunologist, he doesn’t have the public health expertise to deal with those things. But he didn’t do his own job, which was to fund the studies to find out what treatments work or do not work for COVID.
I think it’s destructive to have all infectious disease research centralized in one institute like that. And, of course, there are some other sources of research money; one is the Gates Foundation and another one is the Wellcome Trust in the UK. But they were all on the same page with Fauci and Jeremy Farrar who has the Wellcome Trust in the UK. So, they were all sort of talking, and Jeremy Farrar who is the head of Wellcome Trust, he was one of the lead advisors to the UK government and one of the lead proponents for the lockdowns there.
I know the Gates Foundation was promoting the lockdowns. So, then, those who have connections between themselves and controlling the money, it became very difficult for other scientists to oppose their strategy. At the same time, others jumped on the bandwagon and wanted to help support Fauci and Farrar and so on, because that might be good for their careers to do so. So, they were reiterating what they thought whether they truly believed it or not, probably they did, but there was sort of incentive to support their views because of this.
So, I think the research funding has to be decentralized so that you don’t have these few powerhouses in terms of giving research funds. If you look at the journals, they were not doing a very good job. For example, in masks, there’s been two randomized trials in masks for COVID. So those are the two best studies, because they’re randomized. One was in Denmark, and they had a very hard time getting it published. It went from one top journal to the next. And eventually, it was, but that should have been published immediately by the first journal it was sent to.
The problem was that that study wasn’t able to show that masks had any benefits. So, it didn’t follow the general thinking at the time. The other study was a randomized study in Bangladesh, which showed somewhere between, efficacy of the mask between zero and 18 percent, which is, of course, very low. And you would never approve a vaccine with that low efficacy, for example.
So, basically, both studies said that the mask had no or very limited benefit of preventing infection. So, the journals are also part of the problem, and I think it is actually easier to decentralize it because why do we need these journals? One of the points of the time, we didn’t need them because we had to make paper copies that were then sent to all the university libraries.
That’s how you find out what other scientists were doing, but we don’t really need that anymore. We can have a system where each university publishes their own scientists. And if they’re hiring a scientist, they should trust that scientist to publish good research and be willing to publish it. Because why will you have somebody working as a professor if you’re not willing to have their research published?
So, if a university has published their own research, that would mean that the scientist can just put it out there immediately without delay, which is important. And there’s no prestige in which journal you publish in. So, the journal has to sort of stand on its own feet and not get a boost by what journal it was published in. And then of course-
Mr. Jekielek: You mean the scientist… Sorry. Right? The scientist doesn’t need the boost from the journal. Is that…
Dr. Kulldorff: Yes. The way it works now is that to make a career, you have to publish in these top journals. Otherwise, if you want to be promoted to associate professor, and then, full professor, but that’s sort of an artificial thing. We can still, yes, have each university publish all their scientists, and then, we can judge the papers by themselves by what other people think about that paper, about number of citations it gets, the attention it gets, if people write about it, if it leads to breakthroughs.
That’s really the way promotions should already work, that we judge the actual science. But people are lazy. So, instead of actually reading a paper that says, oh, it was published in “New England Journal of Medicine,” it must be a great thing. And he or she deserves promotions, or it was only published in some lower two journals, so maybe that’s not count as much. But if we actually had a system, it would be faster. But if the university just published their own scientists, it would be faster, and we can still sort of judge the papers without the imprint of the journals, which I think doesn’t really serve much of a purpose anymore.
Because even if it’s the famous journal, there’s a lot of variation there in quality between the sciences in “New England Journal of Medicine” or “Lancet,” and there’s more variation within the journals, and it’s between the journals. So, a lot of really good papers, legal science is published in so-called lower tier journals. While the upper tier journals are also publishing a fair amount of things that’s kind of not so great. So, it’s better to not let the anonymous reviewers of these journals determine who should get published in these papers, in these journals that you need for promotions, and have a more open review system.
So, if universities will publish their own scientists, it should still be peer-reviewed, but we could have an open peer review, so that it could be sent out to two or three or four people. And then, they comment on it and say, this is great, or, well, this could be done better, or this is complete trash or whatever. But to have open peer review, I think, now, there is mostly anonymous peer review, which also leads to one group sort of undermining others anonymously.
Mr. Jekielek: So, what I’m hearing here is that… and correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s almost like, in the current system, politics can be kind of injected a lot more easily into the process than one might like.
Dr. Kulldorff: Yes. So, academic politics, so politics within the academic community. Of course, it could also become national politics in those subject areas, which has those kinds of implications, but, for sure, in academic politics. And I think that that’s not a good thing, because often, breakthroughs in science come from the fringes, new ideas, and this sort of discourages new ideas, the centralization, these cartels. So, that’s what, I think, we have to break up and make it more decentralized.
Another issue is that when applying for grants, you apply for something that you want to do. And then, maybe you submit two grants, then, you get one, but not the other one. But, sometimes, you are awarded the grant that is actually the least interesting. So, what scientists do, they tie it on the side to do the more interesting stuff also. But I think a better system is to say, well, we’re not going to evaluate grants on their potential promise. It’s better to evaluate the scientist on what they have already done.
So, this is the research I did the last three years or the last five years, and if they did good research, then, I would trust them to continue to do good research. If they did lousy research, I don’t think they will be able to suddenly turn around and do fantastic research.
Now, when I say good research, I don’t necessarily mean research that has huge breakthroughs, which that’s part of it, but a good study that finds that a new drug doesn’t work is also a good study. That’s also good research. If it’s a solid study that says that you can’t use this drug for diabetes, for example, that can be just as good as a study saying this drug is really good for diabetes. I work on vaccine safety, and doing a study that finds out that a vaccine creates some adverse reaction, that’s important to know.
And so, we need good studies that evaluate drugs, but it’s equally important to know if a vaccine does not have adverse reactions because that will increase confidence in these vaccines, and more people will be willing to take it. So, good studies is not depending on the outcome, but it’s depending on how it’s designed and how solid it is in terms of the scientific basis.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, let me just jump in quickly, because one of the topics that we didn’t discuss about what research, let’s say, wasn’t done or was done, is this question of vaccine safety. There’s been a lot of concern, right, that the proper vaccine safety research wasn’t done around these mRNA, sort of new quickly-made vaccines. What are your thoughts on that?
Dr. Kulldorff: So, we have a vaccine safety surveillance system in the U.S., as well as in other countries. And I don’t think we have used it optimally. If you look at the media, a lot of attention is on the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, the VAERS system, which is the combined system run by FDA together with CDC. That’s not the best system. It’s not even a very good system, because it’s spontaneous reports. So, if you have the vaccine, and then, five days later, you have a stroke, you can report it, or your wife can report it or your physician can report it or a nurse can report it or your cousin can report it to the VAERS system.
But just because you had it the week after you had the vaccine, doesn’t mean that it was the vaccine that caused the stroke. It could have been just by chance that you happen to get it a few weeks or a week after the vaccine. So, the VAERS system has a lack of denominator data. Now, if it’s events that happen a few minutes after the vaccine, that’s not really a problem. So, we know, for example, that the Pfizer and the Moderna causes anaphylaxis which is an allergic reaction usually within 30 minutes after you get the vaccine. And these spontaneous systems like VAERS can pick up that and we can get that information about those, because they just wouldn’t happen by chance of a lot of people so soon after the vaccine.
But to really know about other adverse reactions, we have to rely on two other systems. One is the CDC, it has a Vaccine Safety Datalink (VSD), which is an excellent system. We look at electronic health records, you know these people had the vaccine, and you know exactly how many of them had a stroke, how many days after the vaccine, how many people had myocarditis, how many people had a heart attack, how many people had a seizure, et cetera. So you can, then, know exactly how many people were exposed, and you know exactly how many people have these events.
So, that’s, for example, how we find out, probably a decade ago now, that the MMRV vaccine measles, mumps, rubella, varicella vaccine generated more febrile seizures than having separate vaccines for measles, mumps, rubella, versus varicella and chickenpox. And therefore, that changed, then, the recommendations so that when your children, after one year old, no longer get this combined MMRV vaccine, because there’s an increased risk of febrile seizures. Which is not a terribly serious adverse event like some others might be, but, still, you want to minimize these types of adverse reactions.
So, CDC has the Vaccine Safety Datalink available, but instead of releasing reliable… and they have released data, for example, that’s the data that showed conclusively that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine causes myocarditis. So we know that’s the true… It’s a rare, but true adverse reaction, and it’s most common among younger people and it’s more common among men than women.
So, we know that’s very solid evidence of that adverse reaction. We know that from the Vaccine Safety Datalink. There were reports in the VAERS system, but from the VAERS system, you can’t really make that solid conclusion. But, unfortunately, CDC are releasing all the data from the VAERS system without the proper denominators and without people being able to determine if it was causal or not.
At the same time, they’re holding very tight on the Vaccine Safety Datalink data and the same thing, the FDA has a system that’s similar to, but it’s based on health insurance claims data called the BEST system. We haven’t received much data from that system about this. I think it’s important for the system to report it both if there’s a problem like with myocarditis, but it’s also important to show that it doesn’t cause something else in order to have trust in the vaccines.
So, it’s important that CDC and FDA reports results from these superior systems in a very timely manner, and to do it continuously, so that the public knows that we are monitoring adverse reactions and this is what was found, and this is what was not found.
Mr. Jekielek: So we have a whole suite of things here that we’re looking at. I can’t help but think back to what we were talking about earlier. There’s types of studies that just simply weren’t done that needed to be done. There’s data that was available that was ignored, again, for whatever reason. And then, there’s this situation that there’s just data that’s being withheld. And I don’t know what the norms would be around making data broadly available.
So, why don’t we jump to this area, like what would be the optimal situation, and what can be done immediately to start moving us in that direction?
Dr. Kulldorff: So, it’s a little bit separate from sort of more NIH-type research versus CDC-type research, because CDCs research is sort of aimed at specific public health issues, and gathering knowledge about some current phenomena.
I think with NIH, what needs to be done is it needs to be decentralized. If scientists, instead of having these grants that they need to do certain things that they have promised to do, if they had grants based on the work they’ve done previously, because they’re excellent scientists, then, they can easily shift and say, okay, there’s a new research question coming up. Because now, if I have a research idea, let’s say two years ago in March, 2020, I would have to write a grant to NIH which takes eight months to review. And then, maybe a few more months if it’s funded, or maybe I have to write, send… Maybe it wasn’t funded, I have to reapply with the second application. So, that can take, often, at least a year before we can start a project.
But when a new thing like the pandemic comes, you don’t have that time. So, if there was a situation where scientists got their research based on prior performance, instead of what they’re promising to do, then, they could easily shift their emphasis on what they’re doing to what happens to be the most interesting. And I think scientists are good at finding interesting questions and trying to solve them. That’s what scientists are supposed to do.
The competitive nature is good in that sense because they all want to be the first at finding the new important findings. Now, the fact that scientists cannot do that because they have to do the grants that they have been getting money to do, that meant that it fell on NIH and NIAID to quickly fund those studies to start. So, basically, call up scientists at different universities, “Can you quickly… We have $2 million for you, or $5 million or 1 million, could you, please, quickly organize a randomized trial to evaluate drug A if that works against COVID?” But they didn’t do that either.
So, either of those two things would’ve worked for COVID I think, but they didn’t do that. And I think that’s a failure, both the systematic failure of how the funding is set up, but also, in terms of letting scientists have more freedom of doing what they think is most important when new things come up. That’s a systematic issue. The other one is a personality issue that the director of NIAID didn’t launch those studies, because Dr. Fauci was one of the few people who had the money to quickly get those studies off the ground, and he didn’t do that. And that was a big failure, I think, on his part, on the part of NIH.
Jan Jekielek: So, what about these other… Now, we’re talking about which studies should be done and that they should be done quickly. What about these other areas? You know, which data is even considered, that does exist, right? Like for example, the natural immunity information.
Dr. Kulldorff: That doesn’t exist either. So, the CDC has to collect that data, but it’s a little bit different from NIH data because it’s more gathering information needed to find the best strategy for the pandemic. And they have surveillance systems in place, CDC, looking at monitoring the flu. They have contracted with certain physicians who do the test if the patients have flu or not. So, they have these systems for monitoring the flu and so on. So, they should have done like they did in Spain and other countries, have ongoing surveys, to look at seroprevalence surveys, to look at the antibodies.
That should not be left to somebody like… I mean, Dr. Bhattacharya did an excellent job in the Santa Clara study together with Dr. Ioannidis and Dr. Bendavid, and others, but they had to sort of scramble up to get a little bit of resources to do so on the side. They did it in the Santa Clara study, which is sort of close to Stanford where they work. So, that was a fantastically-important study, because we needed to know how many had already been exposed to know how dangerous this disease is or not. How many people have had it without knowing they had it, or how many people had it without having to go to the hospital.
So at the very beginning of the pandemic, there was talk about fatality rates of three or four percent, but that’s if people went to the hospitals, then, they’re already among the sickest, and then, it’s fairly high. But if you look at people who were infected, which is the more important one, then, the fatality rate was much, much lower and less than one percent. So, those studies were important, but even though they work at a famous university, and a wealthy university, they can only scrape together funding to do a small study in Santa Clara County.
They did one actually in Los Angeles also, a second one, but they cannot do a whole nationwide surveillance system, and no scientist could have that capacity. So, that’s something that CDC would have to do where they set up these surveillance systems to monitor that.
Mr. Jekielek: And we would’ve known incredibly quickly that the death rates and even serious disease rates were nothing close to what was being predicted by these models.
Dr. Kulldorff: Correct. You’re referring to the Imperial College models?
Mr. Jekielek: Yes.
Dr. Kulldorff: The other thing that the CDC didn’t do is when somebody is reported to die from COVID, did they die from COVID or did they die with COVID? So, then, you would look at medical charts and see, okay, these people died, reportedly from COVID, but did they actually die from COVID?
So, either COVID was the main cause of death, or it could be a contributing cause. Maybe somebody was frail, and then, they got COVID and that sort of pushed them over the edge. And maybe they died a month or two earlier because of that, or it was completely unrelated because they had been tested positive, but then, they died from something else completely unrelated.
We should have done those kinds of studies to find out for a random sample of people who reportedly died from COVID, and we should have done it for every child because the number of children were only a few hundred… were in the hundreds. So, for children, it would’ve been easier for CDC to… every child, to see if they actually died by COVID or with COVID.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, and I just noticed that the CDC revised today, as we’re recording, a bunch of its data, right?
Dr. Kulldorff: I think they lowered, about 25 percent or something…
Mr. Jekielek: That’s right.
Dr. Kulldorff: … for children.
Mr. Jekielek: A very significant decrease in pediatric deaths.
Dr. Kulldorff: Yes. Having accurate information of that is important during the pandemic, both for planning purposes, but also, for communications purposes with the public, so that people have accurate ideas about it. And we know from surveys that the public did not have accurate knowledge about the risks of COVID.
There were surveys both in the U.S. and UK where they said that, people thought that a large percentage, several percentage like five percent or so, I forgot the exact number, had already died from COVID in the UK, I think. And we had surveys from the U.S. that said that older people tend to underestimate the risk of dying from COVID. But younger people vastly overestimated the risk.
Mr. Jekielek: Orders of magnitude in many cases.
Dr. Kulldorff: Yep. Yeah.
Mr. Jekielek: Yeah. Yeah.
Dr. Kulldorff: And providing accurate information like that would have sort of lowered the panic stage of the population. I think if you’re in public health, one of the principles of public health is to be honest and accurate with those kinds of information. And when you don’t know, you should be honest about that.
And I think that has come back to bite public health now because public health, CDC and others said things that later turned out not to be true. And of course, why should, then, the public trust anything that CDC says?
Mr. Jekielek: As we finish up, as an immediate kind of step, and indeed, this is this conference that’s part of this Academy of Science and Freedom that you helped start that we’re at, we’re going to be discussing these things. But what would be the immediate things that could be done now to help change things for the better?
Dr. Kulldorff: Well, one thing is to immediately stop censoring any scientists. I self-censor myself on Twitter and LinkedIn, because I want to be able to keep those platforms to communicate, and the slander of scientists, and sort of remove that politicization of science. It’s very strange to be a scientist, and I have never declared my political views, because I think they’re irrelevant. I’m just saying, describing the public health science as I understand it to whoever wants to listen.
And I think as a public health scientist, I’m obliged to talk to everybody. It doesn’t matter what political views they have. I think removing that, immediately removing that censoring, and encouraging scientists to speak up whatever views they have, whatever they think about these issues is sort of an easy first step.
Some of the other things we talked about are more long term, like reforming how the funding of research operates. That’s something that will have to be done over a few years, I think, or maybe longer.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, you know, I can’t help thinking that in these FOIA emails that came out that I think Dr. Fauci wrote, you were described as a fringe scientist. So, perhaps, change, as you suggested earlier, does come from the fringe. But, also, actually, as we finish up, I just want to give you a chance to comment on it. There was also FOIA emails that we got at The Epoch Times where you and other Great Barrington Declaration people were described as AIDS denialists.
Dr. Kulldorff: Yes. They compared us to AIDS denialists.
Mr. Jekielek: Yes.
Dr. Kulldorff: And I just thought that was Dr. Fauci who did that, which is very strange because the reason that we proposed focused protection in the Great Barrington Declaration is because we take this very seriously, and that there needed to be much better protection of old or high risk people. So, we protected the younger members of the laptop class who were terrified of the COVID, when they shouldn’t have been because their risk was very, very small.
At the same time, we didn’t protect older working class people, bus drivers, cab drivers, people working in restaurants, people delivering the food to, those young, work from home laptop professionals. We did a lousy job protecting older high-risk people. And so, the goal with the Great Barrington Declaration was to encourage better protection.
There was many things we could have done to do that, and there’s still are many things we can do both with the vaccine and making sure that older people get the vaccine, instead of what’s now being done by CDCs emphasizing, trying to vaccinate children and young adults, and firing people of working age. When it’s really those who are already retired, they are the ones who really need to be convinced to get this vaccine because they are the ones who have a likelihood of dying if they aren’t protected by these vaccines.
Mr. Jekielek: I guess this is an opportunity to ask this, just, again, for the record, as you understand the data today, the vaccines do protect the high risk groups from severe disease and death.
Dr. Kulldorff: Yes. If you are older, let’s say about 60 or about 50, and you haven’t had COVID… If you had COVID, you have protection from your natural immunity, but if you haven’t, you should certainly… The vaccine provides important protection. So, older people should get vaccinated because of that.
But instead, we have put a lot of emphasis on protecting people who didn’t need the protection, because children only had minuscule risk of dying from COVID. Less than a typical influenza a year for children. If you go back, usually, if you go back historically, between 200 and a thousand children every year die from influenza, depending on the severity in that particular year, and COVID is less risky than that.
And so, the benefit on children for the vaccine is minuscule. And we don’t know exactly what the risks are because we don’t have proper data on that quite yet.
Mr. Jekielek: Any final thoughts?
Dr. Kulldorff: All pandemics end. This pandemic is ending, and it ends when enough people have natural immunity, and then, the pandemic becomes endemic. So, it will be with us for the rest of our lives, but it will not create the kind of havoc that it has done. At the same time, while the virus had created havoc in the sense of people dying from it, our countermeasures has created even more havoc with all the collateral public health damage on, of course, the education system, education, but also, on diabetes care, cardiovascular disease outcomes, people not getting their cancer screenings or cancer treatments they should have, or mental health.
So, we have an enormous burden now from this collateral damage from the strategy, not from COVID itself, but from our measures at the lockdowns and so on, that we have to deal with now. And I think we’ll have to try to come together as a nation and as a world to help overcome those and repair the damage that has been made, because this is something that we’re going to live with for many years to come. Somebody who would have lived 15, 20 years might now die of cervical cancer in three or four years because they didn’t get the proper cancer screening.
So, we have to catch up with all those other public health needs that has been sort of ignored. And you can’t just focus on one disease. You can’t just focus on the short term. You have to look at all diseases, and do it long term. And we didn’t do that during this pandemic. And that was a huge failure. And I think how we dealt with this pandemic is the biggest public health fiasco ever.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, Dr. Martin Kulldorff, it’s such a pleasure to have you on again.
Dr. Kulldorff: Thank you so much, Jan. It was great talking to you as always.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
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