US Health Secretary Defends Promoting New COVID-19 Vaccines Despite Lack of Data

Health Secretary Xavier Becerra said the best proof the vaccines work is that he and vaccine company CEOs are still alive.
US Health Secretary Defends Promoting New COVID-19 Vaccines Despite Lack of Data
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra speaks during a news conference at the agency's headquarters in Washington on June 28, 2022. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images)
Zachary Stieber

U.S. Health Secretary Xavier Becerra on Sept. 20 defended the Biden administration's widespread promotion of the new COVID-19 vaccines despite the dearth of data supporting their use.

"These vaccines work," Mr. Becerra, who isn't a doctor, said during a briefing at a pharmacy in Washington where he received one of the shots.

Mr. Becerra heads the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), an agency of which the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are divisions. The FDA recently approved and authorized new COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna. The CDC then recommended them for nearly all U.S. residents ages 6 months and older.

While officials said that the vaccines will protect against severe illness, they acted without clinical trial efficacy data. Critics say that lack of evidence is undercutting the continuation of the yearslong campaign to get U.S. residents vaccinated and boosted.

Asked by The Epoch Times about the dearth of data on the vaccines, Mr. Becerra defended the government's position.

"Actually, there's a lot of data available about the vaccines. There is a lot of data available about the effectiveness of the vaccines. But the best data—the best proof of their effectiveness—is that we're all standing here alive because we've been vaccinated," he claimed.

"The best testimony comes from those who are standing. The best testimony against not being vaccinated can't come because those who aren't standing and have passed away can't say anything today. The vaccines have worked. They're saving lives. They're keeping people out of the hospital. And I think today we can all gather here and be fairly safe, even though we're not wearing masks, because most of us have been vaccinated."

Mr. Becerra didn't cite any of the data, and his agency didn't respond to a request for citations.

During the briefing, he also claimed that people could protect their loved ones by getting one of the new shots. Mr. Becerra recounted celebrating his mother's 90th birthday recently and said that he felt comfortable doing so because he wouldn't spread COVID-19.

"No one is safe until everyone is, and so it is time for us to do what we know best during this heightened fall and winter virus season. Let's protect our loved ones," he said.

"Apparently, Secretary Becerra has not reviewed the empirical studies bearing on his ludicrous statements," Dr. Harvey Risch, professor emeritus of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health, told The Epoch Times via email. "He is stating the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc. Substantial fractions of the population alive today have not taken the [COVID-19] vaccines, and they are here too."
Dr. Risch noted that there are many other Americans who have suffered side effects from the vaccines, including some who have died.

Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel and Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla attended the event.

Mr. Bancel repeated claims about the vaccines preventing transmission.

"We are going to be able to protect each other to protect ourselves. So my plea to all of you is to protect yourself, but also, if you get vaccinated, protect your loved ones," he said.

Moderna didn't respond to a request for data supporting Mr. Bancel's claim.

Data on Vaccines

Vaccines are typically cleared on the basis of clinical trial data showing effectiveness and safety.

For the new vaccines, Pfizer reported running a trial but didn't disclose any of the results. Moderna reported immunogenicity results from a trial featuring 50 participants who received one of the company's new shots.

The company compared the levels of antibodies produced in recipients to the levels in the recipients prior to receipt of the vaccine. It found that the levels rose by at least tenfold, depending on the variant used in assays.

The new vaccine "is anticipated to be effective against current SARS-CoV-2 variants," Moderna official Dr. Frances Priddy said in a meeting this month.

The FDA stated that the vaccines "are expected to provide good protection against COVID-19 from the currently circulating variants." It also stated that it expects to clear a new round of shots on an annual basis, similar to the influenza vaccine updates. The CDC stated that the vaccines protect against hospitalization and death, as well as so-called long COVID.

One of the 50 participants in Moderna's trial experienced a vaccine-related adverse event for which they required medical care, although Moderna hasn't disclosed information about the event.

Side effects of earlier versions of the vaccines include severe allergic shock and heart inflammation. Some of the side effects have killed people.

Just 17 percent of U.S. residents have received one of the shots that became available in the fall of 2022 and are now being replaced by the new vaccines. Top concerns that are preventing vaccination, according to polls, include worries about side effects, a lack of trust in the government and pharmaceutical companies, and the knowledge that the vaccines aren't that effective.

The bivalent vaccines also lacked trial efficacy data. Observational data, including data from the CDC, have found that the effectiveness of the vaccines against both infection and severe illness generally starts low and quickly drops.
Ryusuke Abe contributed to this report.