With the CDC’s and FDA’s joint recommendation yesterday for a “pause” in administering the J&J coronavirus vaccine has come the understandable questions about why the recommendation was made, if it was based on the science that we’ve been told we’re supposed to trust, how will this impact vaccine hesitancy, etc.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is President Biden’s senior adviser on the coronavirus, has predictably been thrust to the forefront to explain why medical experts said the pause was necessary. During a press briefing yesterday, Fauci was peppered with questions about the announcement but he assured reporters it was based solely on the science and nothing else:
This decision was made by the CDC and the FDA. And that’s one of the things that’s, I think, such a good thing about our system here, is that we’re ruled by the science, not by any other consideration. So the decision was really thoroughly made by the CDC and the FDA.
Because CNN is the media industry’s leader in parroting everything Fauci says as the gospel truth, the Biden administration’s critics got this tut-tutting from CNN’s chief national affairs correspondent Jeff Zeleny shortly after the presser:
Attn Twitter skeptics playing the role of health experts today: “I don’t think it was pulling the trigger too quickly,” Dr. Fauci said of the FDA and DCD decision to implement a pause on the J&J vaccine. “We are ruled by the science and not any other consideration.”
— Jeff Zeleny (@jeffzeleny) April 13, 2021
While I am by no means an expert on “the science” and won’t pretend to be, what I do know a little something about is messaging, which this administration has been horrible at from day one on a number of issues, especially the vaccine. To some people, saying the decision based was based solely on “the science” is a bit confusing when you look at the underlying rationale for the FDA’s and CDC’s recommendation. Charles Cooke breaks it down:
The “science” tells us that, as far as we know, six people out of the seven million who have taken the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have developed blood clots. It does not tell us what to do about this. There is no “scientific” answer to that question. It’s a matter of judgment, of tradeoffs, of consideration. One might as well say that one has come to the correct scientific conclusion as to what the speed limit should be. There is no such thing.
People are still dying from COVID. Schools are still closed because of COVID. Civil society is still restricted because of COVID. What level of risk is acceptable from the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and how does it compare to the risks that will flow from pausing its deployment or to the risk to public confidence that such a pause would guarantee?
Are we even allowed to ask such questions in a climate where asking questions about official government statements on the coronavirus, the vaccine, or both is viewed as tantamount to heresy in some elite circles? One would hope so, because they sound reasonable, in my opinion.
But where Fauci especially misses the mark, in my view, is in how his answer yesterday about “being ruled by the science” and nothing else is at odds with what he said just a month ago when it came to how the CDC was determining what gathering/travel recommendations to make for people who had been fully vaccinated. Here’s what he told CNN “New Day” anchor John Berman:
They’re being careful, understandably. They want to get science, they want to get data, and then when you don’t have the data and you don’t have the actual evidence, then you’ve got to make a judgment call. And I think that’s what you’re going to be seeing in the next weeks, you’re going to see little by little, more and more guidelines getting people to be more and more flexible.”
In other words, Fauci more or less admitted on national TV that the medical experts making the decisions on CDC recommendations did not have the data nor “actual evidence” to back up their suggestions for people who were fully vaccinated. Despite that, the American people were still supposed to trust these “judgment calls” coming from the experts even though said experts were lacking the scientific rationale for some of the decisions they’re making on behalf of over 300 million people.
In the eyes of some like Cooke, it appears the pause on the J&J vaccine was a judgment call rather than a scientific one. It’s a baffling situation to the people I’ve spoken to about it. Some of them were hesitant to take any of the vaccines, to begin with, for various reasons, but now have even more hesitancy because of what’s been said over the last 24 hours by administration officials like Fauci about trusting the science behind the J&J pause.
To repeat something I’ve said before, I’m not here to argue the science one way or another. But considering how people have been told so many contradictory things about what they should and should not be doing – all supposedly based on science – hearing Fauci give dueling messages about trusting the science is just going to create more confusion and sow more distrust for the experts they say people should rely on. Further, the mixed messages are coming at a very critical time when the administration is trying to ramp up efforts to get people to receive the vaccine.
As far as I’m concerned, Fauci has emerged as one of Biden’s worst messengers on the vaccine. He should either explain his conflicting answers or take a step back. I’d suggest the administration start sending someone else out in front of the cameras but considering the options – Biden, Harris? – that’s probably not a great idea, either.
This country is desperate and screaming for a return to normalcy, and so far, the people who promised it in so many words are failing to deliver.