Group Seeks Investigation of CDC Officials Over Misinformation About Child COVID Deaths

Group Seeks Investigation of CDC Officials Over Misinformation About Child COVID Deaths
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta on April 23, 2020. (Tami Chappell/AFP via Getty Images)
Zachary Stieber

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials who spread misinformation about child COVID-19 deaths should be investigated for violations of the agency’s scientific integrity policies, a watchdog group says.

Drs. Katherine Fleming-Dutra and Sara Oliver both overstated the number of children who had died of COVID-19, and refused to correct the misinformation after they were told the correct figures, the complaint says, citing reporting from The Epoch Times.

The CDC’s scientific integrity guidelines say that the agency holds accountability and integrity as core values, stating in part that “all information products authored, published, and released by CDC for public use are of the highest quality and are scientifically sound, technically accurate, and useful to the intended audience.”

Protect the Public’s Trust, the watchdog that filed the complaint, urged the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) inspector general to investigate the apparent violations. The CDC is part of the HHS.

“Ideally, they would investigate the incident and what happened and determine whether or not certain officials within the CDC violated the agency’s scientific integrity policies. We believe that that they have,” Michael Chamberlain, director of Protect the Public’s Trust, told The Epoch Times.

The inspector general’s office said it received the complaint and declined to comment further. The CDC and the HHS didn’t respond to requests for comment by print deadline. Fleming-Dutra and Oliver haven’t returned repeated inquiries as of press time.

Misleading Claims

Fleming-Dutra and Oliver both said that COVID-19 was a leading cause of death among children while presenting data to the CDC’s vaccine advisory panel before the panel voted to recommend that the CDC allow all children in the United States between 6 months and 5 years of age to receive a Moderna or Pfizer vaccine.

Slides from their presentations cited a non-peer-reviewed paper from British scientists, who analyzed death certificate data from the CDC.

The scientists later corrected the study after admitting that they didn’t fully understand how the certificate data was reported.
Within days of the presentations, both officials were alerted to having spread misinformation, emails obtained by The Epoch Times show. But the officials brushed off the concerns and never issued a correction.

“The general sentiment [is] that ‘even 1 death from COVID that’s preventable is too many, regardless of how you count them,'” Oliver wrote in one of the missives.

No evidence exists showing that vaccines protect against death among small children.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC’s director, later referred to the study; and the website of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, the vaccine advisory panel, still cites it. Neither has acknowledged the update.

It remains unclear why the CDC officials didn’t perform their own analysis of the certificate data.

“I don’t understand why they don’t seem to know how to use their own resources,” Kelley Krohnert, a citizen researcher who alerted the study’s authors to the errors, told The Epoch Times. “It’s very strange.”

Public Trust

Apparent violations of the scientific integrity policy include relying on a non-peer-reviewed study and not discovering the massive overestimate of child COVID-19 deaths, the complaint from Protect the Public’s Trust says.

Not issuing corrections after learning of the misinformation also appears to violate the policy, it says.

Public health relies on public trust and officials must value that trust, Chamberlain said.

“Trust is the most precious commodity that public health officials have,” he said.

Surveys indicate that fewer than half of Americans trust the CDC on COVID-19, the watchdog noted.

“If people don’t trust what they’re saying, they’re far less likely to follow the guidance or the guidelines that the CDC recommends, or public health officials more broadly recommend. And those can have significant negative impacts on public health,” Chamberlain added. “So it’s important that they adhere to the scientific integrity principles that the agencies have in order to maintain the public’s trust.”