Categories
Antivaccine nonsense Medicine Politics Popular culture

Urgency of Normal, the Great Barrington Declaration, and the antivax movement

On Monday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis convened a roundtable including “Urgency of Normal,” Great Barrington Declaration authors, and antivaxxers. This was no coincidence, given the common talking points and causes between the groups.

I’ve written a number of times about the Great Barrington Declaration (GBD), a statement produced a couple of months before COVID-19 vaccines started being distributed under an emergency use authorization (EUA) that advocated a “natural herd immunity” approach to the pandemic. The GBD was written by three academics at the behest of the libertarian free market think tank American Institute for Economic Research (AIER): Oxford University theoretical epidemiologist Sunetra Gupta; Stanford University health policy professor Jay Bhattacharya; and Harvard University biostatistician Martin Kulldorff, who, after having met with Jeffrey Tucker, Stacey Rudin, and AIER officials at a weekend conference, enthusiastically spearheaded the effort to promote an “anti-lockdown” message, to whose drafting Jeffery Tucker. (He even bragged about it.) The result was the GBD, which was birthed at a second weekend conference held at AIER headquarters in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, hence the name. More recently, a similar sort of effort, dubbed “Urgency of Normal” by its backers, has arisen and reminds me a lot of the GBD, only for children and schools, as you will see. Both enthusiastically argue against masks, “lockdowns,” virtual school, and, now, even vaccines.

With that background, let’s discuss is a “roundtable” discussion held by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Monday that involved the GB and “Urgency of Normal.” The result of the roundtable was headlines declaring how Gov. DeSantis and Dr. Joseph Lapado, Florida’s director of Health and Human Services, was going against the CDC’s recommendation and recommending that healthy children not be vaccinated against COVID-19:

Gov. Ron DeSantis had assembled Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo and 10 other medical and scientific professionals for a live discussion on the “Failure of Lockdowns and Mandates.” Included were some of the medical community’s most vocal skeptics of pandemic mitigation measures. They spent the bulk of the conversation — which was recorded in a West Palm Beach studio and aired on social media and Rumble by DeSantis’ office — criticizing all the ways the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and federal government attempted to slow the spread of the coronavirus and protect people from infection. There was some discussion as to whether vaccines were necessary for kids, with the argument being that the virus does not seem to affect children like adults (though almost 4.5 million children have tested positive just since the beginning of January and some cases have resulted in dangerous complications). 

But it was not until the very end of this 90-minute event that Ladapo abruptly shared his news, telling the viewing audience: “The Florida Department of Health is going to be the first state to officially recommend against the Covid-19 vaccines for healthy children.” He did not elaborate on it or explain how this decision had been reached, when it would be official or what led to this decision. Later Monday, DeSantis clarified that Florida parents would have the choice, but he added: “We are not just going to follow the CDC in the state of Florida. … We’re going to do our own stuff.”

While one can argue that it is not necessarily antivax to argue that children don’t require boosters for COVID-19—after all, Dr. Paul Offit, no antivaxxer himself, has made that argument, and even though many of us don’t agree we don’t call him antivax—but to argue that in general children should not be vaccinated against COVID-19? That’s at least borderline antivax, given that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective and the CDC recommends vaccination against COVID for children aged five years and older. At the very least, the doctors who make the sorts of arguments commonly used to say that children shouldn’t be vaccinated against COVID-19 (e.g., that “only” ~1,000 children under 18 have died of COVID-19 during the pandemic and therefore COVID-19 is not “that dangerous” to children) don’t realize that antivaxxers have been making the very same argument about measles and varicella vaccines for decades. As I like to counter, measles used to kill around 500 per year right before the measles vaccine was introduced while varicella killed around 100, and that doesn’t count the many more cases of neurological injury from both diseases. As I like to point out to all these physicians arguing that COVID-19 “isn’t very dangerous” to children, if you make that argument for COVID-19, then why don’t you oppose school vaccine mandates for MMR and varicella? If you make the same argument about COVID-19 vaccines, like it or not, believe it or not, you are parroting more general antivax talking points.

I also counter that children shouldn’t die, if we can do anything to prevent it. That used to be the norm before vaccines, lots of children not making it to adulthood, thanks to childhood diseases. Such is no longer the case to the degree that even small numbers of children dying of such diseases is now rightly considered intolerable, at least if you don’t subscribe to the GBD or “Urgency of Normal.” In fact, the same rationale used to argue against COVID-19 vaccination could be used to recommend shutting down a whole lot of other pediatric care, because children don’t die of anything at anywhere near as high a rate as adults:

By this rationale, we should just shut down St. Judes, because, dammit, not very many children die of cancer every year compared to adults!
Dr. Howard and Wallach are correct. That is actually exactly the argument that those who oppose vaccinating children (like GBD authors and “Urgency of Normal”) are making. It’s an antivax argument.

But back to Gov. DeSantis’ “roundtable” with the GBD, “Urgency of Normal,” and other COVID-19 minimizers and antivaxxers. It was a very striking event because of whom it brought together. Here’s the video:

The video is still on Facebook as well.

Notice the bit about “COVID theater.” You might remember Gov. DeSantis berating high school students at a press event for wearing masks, derisively calling mask wearing “ridiculous,” saying, “Honestly, it’s not doing anything, and we gotta stop with this COVID theater. So if you want to wear it, fine, but this is ridiculous.” It’s a talking point, but of course I can’t help but think: Project much? After all, this roundtable was primo “COVID theater.”

COVID-19 denial a-go-go!

One thing that struck me immediately about Gov. DeSantis’ bit of COVID theater was the list of participants. First, every single author of the GBD participated—all three of them, Jay Bhattacharya, Martin Kulldorff, and Sunetra Gupta, all participating via Zoom. (Every. Single. One.) In person, of course, we find Dr. Ladapo, who is a member of the COVID-19 quack group America’s Frontline Doctors and was recruited by DeSantis to head up Florida’s entire public health infrastructure as surgeon general and director of Florida HHS. You might recall that America’s Frontline Doctors first reared its ugly COVID-19 disinformation head in the summer of 2020, when they held a press conference to promote hydroxychloroquine as a miracle cure for COVID-19, despite the increasing evidence at the time that it didn’t work. Indeed, Dr. Ladapo even appeared in that infamous video, along with Dr. Stella “Demon Seed” Immanuel, a physician who claimed that endometriosis and other gynecological complaints were due to dreams of sex with demons and witches. So naturally, Dr. Ladapo was down with that group, which later went antivax and sued over “deaths from COVID-19 vaccines.”

Gov. DeSantis' antivax GBD and "Urgency of Normal" roundtable
Here’s Gov. DeSantis’ antivax roundtable without the distracting background full of virtual participants. Note that “inventor of mRNA vaccines” Dr. Robert Malone, who’s gone full antivax, is right at the table. He’s the second from the right, the guy with the beard who looks like Kenny Rogers.

But who else took part? I note that the second person to introduce themselves was none other than Dr. Robert “inventor of mRNA vaccines” Malone. (That Gov. DeSantis gave Dr. Malone the second speaking slot after his own Secretary of HHS tells you all you should know about this roundtable.) Amusingly, he claims himself to be an expert in bioethics as well.

This is someone who did some early work in the late 1980s as a graduate student using lipid nanoparticles to get mRNA into cells in cell culture and have it make protein and now claims himself to have been the “inventor of mRNA vaccines,” even though he was not. More recently, he’s falsely claiming to have been “erased by Wikipedia” over his claims about COVID-19 vaccines. (He wasn’t, although his wife was apparently busted trying to edit his Wikipedia page to proclaim him the “inventor of mRNA vaccines.” More recently still, he’s gone full antivax conspiracy theorist, claiming on Joe Rogan’s podcast that vaccine advocates are a victim of “mass formation psychosis.” Word to all three authors of the GBD: If you want to be taken seriously, you really shouldn’t appear at the same roundtable with a bonkers conspiracy theorist like Dr. Malone. In particular, you shouldn’t want to speak right after someone like Dr. Malone, as Dr. Høeg did, although she did echo the “brave maverick doctor” rhetoric of others on the panel by mentioning how, as a private practice physician, she is “free” to speak out about COVID-19 even if she bucks the consensus, and how she supports “academic freedom,” which apparently, if you listen to this panel, means the “freedom” to spew disinformation and nonsense about COVID-19 without being harshly criticized.

Which brings me to “Urgency of Normal.”

“Urgency of Normal,” or: Let the kids all catch COVID!

Interestingly Tracy Beth Høeg was also at the roundtable—and there in person as well. You might remember her as the private practice sports medicine doctor who, despite having studied epidemiology, had no relevant expertise in infectious disease or other aspects of epidemics or pandemics. None of that stopped her from coauthoring a paper that was the result of an incompetent dumpster dive into the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting (VAERS) database with Josh Stevenson, a prominent member of Rational Ground, a COVID-19 denying (and antivax) group. It was a thoroughly awful study in which Høeg (unwittingly, I’ll assume) used the old antivax tactic of weaponizing VAERS reports to demonize a vaccine. Unsurprisingly, used by antivaxxers to argue against vaccinating children against COVID-19.

More recently, Dr. Høeg has spearheaded an effort that launched in late January called “Urgency of Normal,” along with a number of other of the “usual suspects” of COVID-19 minimizing doctors. The basic idea behind “Urgency of Normal” was that schools should, in essence, stop all COVID-19 mitigations, particularly mask mandates and social distancing, because—there’s that antivax argument again!—children are at such low risk of dying from COVID-19 that we should just let the virus rip and, of course, because masks and the mitigations supposedly do so much more harm than the virus to children:

Meanwhile, children’s already-low risk from COVID has become even lower. Vaccines are available to children aged five and up, the Omicron variant is causing milder disease, and vaccines continue to be extremely protective against severe disease in the Omicron era.

Based on a careful review of all of this evidence, we believe it is time to allow children the same return to normalcy that adults have enjoyed. Children’s schools, athletics, and activities should be restored to their 2019 norms. Masks should become optional in US schools (we suggest, by February 15), and we can also return to pre-pandemic norms for quarantines: if you are sick, stay home. 

I find it rather interesting that, although “Urgency of Normal” mentions the vaccines as making “already-low risk” children even “lower” risk, they don’t recommend that children be vaccinated; instead they note only that vaccines are “available to children aged five and up.” This tracks with Høeg’s dumpster dive into VAERS regarding myocarditis that sought to portray COVID-19 vaccines to be at least as dangerous to children as SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, itself. I also find it…interesting…how many reports I hear of parents citing “Urgency of Normal” to say that quarantines are no longer necessary for children with COVID-19.

“Urgency of Normal” provided a toolkit to parents to use to argue to school boards to drop mask mandates and other COVID-19 mitigation measures. I have relatives who have pointed out to me just how successful this effort has been, with lots of parents whom you wouldn’t otherwise think to be susceptible to such an effort enthusiastically embracing the slogan. Almost immediately, though, it was pointed out how “Urgency of Normal” misused and misrepresented scientific studies. I’ll cite just a couple of examples of Twitter threads ripping apart the misuse of suicide statistics:

And:

“Urgency of Normal” is not acting in good faith.

Epidemiologist Gregg Gonsalves has also demolished the claims of “Urgency of Normal.” The whole thread is worth reading, but Gonsalves makes one point that explains why there is an affinity between the GBD and “Urgency of Normal” that’s worth looking at:

Gee, does “focused protection” as used by “Urgency of Normal” sound familiar? Where have I heard that before…?

Others have also piled on, given how obvious the propaganda of “Urgency of Normal” is.

So, when you boil it down, both the GBD and “Urgency of Normal” argue that COVID-19 isn’t dangerous to most people, and therefore we should just stop trying to stop its spread and use “focused protection” to keep massive numbers of the vulnerable from dying. In the case of GBD, the argument goes that “lockdowns” cause far more harm than COVID-19 (which is not dangerous to most people) and that we should therefore let the virus rip to achieve “natural herd immunity” faster and instead “focus” protection on the elderly and those with chronic health conditions that make them more vulnerable to severe disease and death from COVID-19. In the case of “Urgency of Normal,” the argument goes that school mitigations such as mask mandates and virtual school have caused a wave of child suicides and depression doing more harm than the virus and that we should therefore drop all those mitigations and let the virus rip through schools, which will eventually result in—you guessed it!—”natural herd immunity.” And guess what? Just yesterday, Martin Kulldorff himself published a new article in his new gig as scientific director of the Brownstone Institute (a.k.a. the “spiritual child of the GBD) entitled Should I Vaccinate My Child Against Covid?, which argues exactly the same thing, that children are at such low risk from COVID-19 that risk-benefit ratio of vaccinating is unfavorable.

What do the GBD and “Urgency of Normal” have in common?

I’m really not going to go into the propaganda promoted in Gov. DeSantis’ roundtable that much, given that I’ve discussed a lot of it before on numerous occasions, although I will mention a few tidbits. For instance, there was the usual equating COVID-19 mitigations and mandates with “unscientific” assaults on freedom that are based on “fear”:

“Under the leadership of Governor DeSantis, Florida has continued to stay ahead of the federal government by following sound science – not coercion,” said Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo. “Today, we were able to bring doctors from around the world to discuss COVID-19 and the lack of data to support mandates. Scientific debate takes place in a public forum – it is not hidden in federal bureaucracy. We need to get back to living – not hiding in fear.”

Unsurprisingly, Dr. Bhattacharya equates criticism of the GBD with “censorship” and “silencing” of “brave maverick scientists” like himself, because of course he does:

“The lockdowns were an enormous catastrophic mistake that should never be repeated,” said Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Health Policy, Stanford University Medical School. “When we think about lockdowns, we should recoil with horror because the policies we followed have violated not just medical ethics, but also crushed the ability for scientists to discuss openly with each other facts and evidence. It’s taken a great amount of effort and willingness to face abuse in order for scientists to speak up and many have been silenced. I think [we need] the restoration of the freedom for scientists to discuss with one another openly what the evidence actually says without fear of repression that we’ve seen during the pandemic in order to support the lockdowns. I think that the proper place of science in society needs to be restored so that scientists can advise, but not dictate policy.”

That last line made me cringe. Since when have scientists ever dictated policy, even during a pandemic? But let’s move on to Dr. Tracy “Urgency of Normal” Høeg:

“We’ve really had an inversion of the precautionary principle,” said Dr. Tracy Beth Høeg, M.D., Ph.D., Board Certified Interventional Sports and Spine Medicine Specialist, Northern California Orthopedic Associates. “I think that’s a great theme because it relates to school closures, lockdowns and masks. We know that masks interfere with communication, and children do not like wearing them. The children with hearing impairments and other impairments have difficulty wearing masks. And, we’re forcing them to do this just because we have this idea that they’re going to be doing something good. We have actually no high-quality evidence showing that they are.”

Of course, this is utter nonsense. There is a lot of evidence, albeit mostly epidemiological and observational, that masks do work to slow the spread of COVID-19. I also can’t help but point out that Dr. Høeg, of all people, should not be one to be chastising anyone for not using rigorous evidence, given how Urgency of Normal has cherry picked and misrepresented evidence and she herself has published utter dreck about myocarditis and VAERS. Then there is the double standard. She demands gold-standard randomized clinical trial evidence for masks, but will accept all sorts of low quality and dubious evidence, as long as it reinforces her preexisting belief that masks harm children.

Then came the outright opposition to vaccinating children from Kulldorff:

“If you have had immunity, you don’t need vaccines, and that by itself sort of reduces any argument for having a vaccine mandate or vaccine passports,” said Dr. Martin Kulldorff, Ph.D., Scientific Director, Brownstone Institute; Fellow, Hillsdale College’s Academy for Science & Freedom. “But for children who haven’t had COVID, the question was, we don’t know to what extent it helps, up against death and serious disease. Right now in the U.S., the Omicron wave is going down. Right now I think the benefits of vaccinating children are very small. We know that there’s a risk of myocarditis for young boys and young men, but also for girls. There might be other adverse reactions that we don’t know about yet. So for children, the benefits we know are at best, very small and we don’t know what the risk benefit ratio is. I think under those circumstances, it’s unethical to mandate vaccinations for children.”

Kulldorff is, of course, ascribing magical mystical properties to “natural immunity” (more properly called postinfection or infection-induced immunity) to COVID-19 that ignores the observation that “natural immunity” is not any more robust against new variants than vaccine-induced immunity. Also note Dr. Kulldorff’s new gigs. He’s no longer Harvard faculty; instead he’s a fellow at the new right wing program at Hillsdale College, which is unfortunately in my state. That’s quite the comedown!

More importantly, when you sound exactly like Dr. Malone, you really should question where your life has taken you:

“There is no justification for mandating vaccines for children, full stop,” said Dr. Robert Malone, M.D. “We’re of the strong opinion that if there is risk, there must be choice. As far as we’re concerned, there is no medical emergency now, and there is therefore no justification for the declaration of medical emergency and the suspension of rights that has occurred with that reupping of the medical emergency by the executive branch. Another thing that the state of Florida has led on that we are very grateful for is enabling physicians [and providing] the latitude to provide early treatment to patients. We have really tried to advocate for the ability of physicians to just practice medicine.”

“If there is risk, there must be choice” is not a new talking point. It’s a talking point that antivaxxers have used as long as I can remember, although often it’s phrased, “Where there is risk there should be choice” or something similar. For example, this is from before the pandemic:

"Where there is risk there should be choice"?
Some things never change with antivaxxers.

There have even been T-shirts:

Where there is risk there must be choice
Antivaccine messaging, same as it ever was.

As I’ve described many times before, this messaging is common in the antivaccine movement. The idea is to conflate what I like to callmisinformed refusal” of vaccines with an uncontroversial medical topic like informed consent by insisting that all the exaggerated and made-up “risks” of vaccination that are not supported by science (and are usually even refuted by science) be included in informed consent discussions for vaccines.

We’ve now seen just how alike the GBD (a propaganda document advocating a do-nothing approach to the pandemic) is to “Urgency of Normal” (a propaganda “toolkit” designed to be used to stop doing anything in schools about the pandemic). But why? Why are they so alike? And why do right wing politicians who want to “reopen” everything love the GBD and “Urgency of Normal” so much?

Urgency of Normal and GBD: Propaganda, not science

I’ve written before a number of times about how the GBD is a campaign that has always been far more about ideology than science. Indeed, as a document, it started out as what we call “magnified minority” of the sort long used by science denying cranks of all varieties, including creationists, HIV/AIDS denialists, and antivaxxers. The idea is to write a statement denying some aspect of science and to get a bunch of what appear to be “experts” to sign it. Nearly always, the vast majority of the “experts” who sign such documents are not really experts at all, but they appear to be to the general public. Moreover the GBD originated in ideology from the
new merchants of doubt,” not science, with AIER having recruited Martin Kulldorff, who then became a willing useful idiot who recruited Sunetra Gupta and Jay Bhattacharya to meet at AIER headquarters, where the GBD was written and given a huge publicity push by AIER. Of course, the GBD’s “focused protection” was never really a viable strategy—a great argument why can be found here—but rather cover for opposing collective action to slow the spread of COVID-19 using a seemingly scientific rationale that “natural herd immunity” would be reached faster that way. (How’d that work out, with Delta and Omicron?)

There also appears to be a fair amount of overlap between “Urgency of Normal” and the GBD:

Other members of the group include Dr. Scott Balsitis, a virologist who develops antivirals and monoclonal antibodies for Gilead Sciences, which makes the Covid antiviral remdesivir (Balsitis did not return interview requests by press time), and Dr. Vinay Prasad, a hematologist and oncologist who joined the group shortly after it was formed. Prasad also writes for the Brownstone Institute for Social and Economic Research, a group advocating a more libertarian approach to the pandemic. (After this article was published, Prasad clarified on Twitter that the pieces on Brownstone’s website are republished from his Substack newsletter.)* Brownstone’s donor breakdown is unclear, but its founder consults for the American Institute for Economic Research, which receives funding from the Charles Koch Foundation and a Koch-funded public relations firm Emergent Order. AIER aided the Great Barrington Declaration—an early (and widely denounced) campaign to drop Covid precautions under the theory that “focused protection”—i.e., precautions only for the vulnerable—would be sufficient. Brownstone describes itself as”the spiritual child of the Great Barrington Declaration.” (One Koch-backed group has also been linked to school unmasking efforts.)**

The attitude is also quite callous:

That McBride brought this up is interesting, because the prospect of children losing more loved ones to Covid-19 is also why some experts argue schools should maintain precautions during times of high transmission: While studies suggest masks don’t affect mental health, they say, the trauma of picking up Covid at school and passing it to a grandparent who gets sick or dies can be significant.

The anti-mask crowd doesn’t find this argument convincing. “I see hundreds and hundreds of kids in a clinic space over the course of a week,” one physician in favor of removing precautions like masks and quarantines after exposure, who asked not to be identified because of professional repercussions, told me. “I have not had one child say, ‘What is causing me to be upset is because I had a grandmother die.’”

I’ve called the GBD “eugenicist” because its “focused protection” is a sham given that what it proposed is not much different than mitigation measures that were already in place and could not actually result in “focused protection.” Basically, the GBD proposal of “focused protection” never made sense and devalued the lives of the elderly and those with chronic health conditions with a “let them die” policy poorly disguised as an effort to protect them. I’m rapidly getting the same vibe about “Urgency of Normal.” Although there hasn’t been such an explicit link to “Urgency of Normal,” it has been documented for a while now how dark money interests have been doing their best to fuel antimask activism among parents.

Interestingly, “Urgency of Normal” admits:

The Urgency of Normal acknowledges that its recommendations are “particularly focused toward highly vaccinated communities.” But what neither this group nor other voices urging normalcy typically emphasize is that there are huge equity problems when it comes to which communities have been vaccinated.

Funny, but that sounds a lot like the GBD, which caters to privileged, better off people who tend to be less susceptible to harm from COVID-19 and better able to engage in something resembling “focused protection” and ignores all the disadvantaged communities who have suffered the most from the pandemic. That’s why a group to counter “Urgency of Normal” was formed, called Urgency of Equity:

It’s easy to see why Gov. Ron DeSantis loves both GBD and “Urgency of Normal.” Both groups promote a narrative that massively downplays the actual documented harms due to COVID-19. Both groups advocate “focused protection,” just in different contexts. Both groups oppose mask mandates and any sort of COVID-19 vaccine mandates for children, even going as far to parrot common antivax talking points that predate the pandemic. Both groups basically oppose any sort of collective action against the pandemic in favor of getting “back to normal,” using cherry picked studies, misinformation, and disinformation that massively exaggerate (or even lie about) the harms of mitigations used to decrease the spread of and harms due to COVID-19. Neither seems to care about being associated with outright antivax cranks, like Dr. Malone, or quacks like Dr. Ladapo. Both are engineered efforts; i.e., astroturf, rather than true “grassroots” efforts.

Basically, “Urgency of Normal” and the GBD are two sides of the same coin that are nearly identical or, as I like to say quoting an old commercial, two crappy tastes that taste crappy together.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

61 replies on “Urgency of Normal, the Great Barrington Declaration, and the antivax movement”

I am an epidemiologist and worked for the Florida Department of Health until January, when I found a new job. Locally, I worked with dedicated, science-minded people who wanted the best for our community, but Florida DOH is an integrated state system which means that overall policy is dictated from the top down and I couldn’t defend the decisions being made. It wasn’t public health, it was politics and I was worried it would bleed beyond covid and hamper disease prevention and investigations. It was sad because I loved public health and I didn’t want to leave.

What I worry about is that, after the pandemic finally fades into the background and life gets (mostly) back to prepandemic normal, the damage done by fools like this to our public health infrastructure will resonate for years, if not decades, with all sorts of horrible downstream effects on all human health and disease.

That is a well-founded concern. We have demonstrated zero ability to learn from previous large-scale health incidents and there is no financial or political investment in preparedness at the federal or (most) state levels. Many people are leaving public health due to the strain of the pandemic, the politics, or a combination of the two. And our infrastructure is further at risk with gerrymandered elections making it difficult to elect leadership that will appoint qualified persons who will make the right decisions, even if they are difficult. I had stuck it out for almost a decade but it became clear things were just getting worse. I don’t know when it will get better again.

You are not the only one. A friend of mine, an epidemiologist, took a job in another state because of DOH politics.

That is a well-founded concern. We haven’t really shown any capacity to learn from previous large-scale health events. There is no political or financial investment in preparedness at the federal or state levels. Many people are leaving public health due to the strain of the pandemic, the politics, or a combination of the two. And with gerrymandering and all the efforts to restrict voting, it’s going to be hard to elect leadership that will appoint qualified persons who will make the right decisions, even if they are difficult. I had stuck it out for almost a decade but it was clear things were just going to continue to deteriorate. I don’t see it getting better any time soon.

“Many people are leaving public health due to the strain of the pandemic, the politics, or a combination of the two. ”

I have no doubt that is part of the plan the right and their anti-science lackeys are pushing. As the real health officials and scientists leave they can be replaced with people supported by the right, entrenching their influence.

These anti-science folks are going to schizm medicine for their own profit. It will be a state by state thing, starting with Florida. They will create fake science like the governor of Florida just did, pass legislation to enable it, and it’s going to be damned hard to fix.

Notice, by the way, that several of the speakers are conflating mandating vaccines with whether it’s a good idea to vaccinate, which may make their clear opposition to vaccines hard to catch. E.g. the Malone quote you gave.

I would also point out that Dr. McBride saw fit to go on Twitter and claims that she recommends vaccinating children, in what seems like an attempt to distance herself from the association Dr. Hoeg created between #urgencyofnormal and Florida’s quest to get more children sick.

Which raises the question, if you do support vaccinating, why – as you point out – wasn’t that in your powerpoint, and why are you including people who are actively working to reduce and prevent vaccinating children, like Dr. Hoeg and Dr. Prasad, people who are openly and clearly working to get more children sick?

I guess that this is Florida’s idea of a round table with a diversity of (Crazy) view points…

https://www.newsweek.com/marjorie-taylor-greene-says-southerners-may-shoot-vaccination-volunteers-1616786

https://sacramento.cbslocal.com/2021/07/19/sacramento-leaders-go-door-to-door-to-encourage-vaccinations-in-south-sacramento/

https://www.gov.ca.gov/2021/05/04/as-california-surpasses-30-million-vaccines-governor-newsom-doubles-down-on-efforts-to-vaccinate-hard-to-reach-communities/

Kool Aid Politics is the problem here is anytime we call out anti-vax cult leaders for their rants. They always respond with it’s a Newsom, Pan conspiracy like “Nazi Germany” given that California has stricter vaccine requirements than other states on average and most corporations have to comply with that. Also I live in California there is no concentration camps in the Sacramento area. These Cult leaders do this to spark Insurrections in Downtown Sacramento to remove Newsom from Office.

Also you have Marjorie Taylor Greene who heard that Sacramento area had a door to door vaccine program and she goes on rallies calling for nurses and doctors to get shot for that.

As a Floridian, I thank you for this post. This political theater will be red meat for DeSantis’s base, as intended. DeSantis is, in my view, a dangerous ideologue who whose sole mission is to become the next U.S. president and he could not care less about public health. He bought a million (!) doses of hydroxychloroquine for distribution in Florida, which turned out to be useless, and excoriated the federal government for refusing to send more monoclonal antibody treatments, even when they proved ineffective against the new variant. The Florida Legislature has abandoned its role as an independent branch of government and capitulated to DeSantis’s anti-public health agenda, which includes the “don’t say gay” bill, millions of dollars in fines for local school districts who defied the mask mandate ban, a bill giving physicians total “freedom” to spread any anti-vaccine (or other) nonsense, a new law that allows anyone who has ever had a positive COVID test to claim “natural immunity”, and a law that prohibits businesses from requiring that customers wear masks. The Legislature also rubber-stamped the appointment of Ladapo as Surgeon General/Secretary of the Florida Dept. of Health.

“a bill giving physicians total “freedom” to spread any anti-vaccine (or other) nonsense”

I love the fact that they want to replace a coherent science based message with the raucous hooting of a troop of chimpanzees in a panshite. I can see a situation where they invent more and more crazy, just to keep their head above water.

Also a (horrified) Floridian. Now Georgia is trying to get into the “don’t say gay” act, and it will only spread from there–probably to enclaves of right-wing insanity such as Idaho and elsewhere in the far west. Don’t count out the rest of the but-mah-freedumb-but-not-yours south or Texas, either.

Just what you would expect….

( Business Insider, yesterday)
” QAnon-linked InfoWars” reported that the US had a bioweapons lab in Ukraine AND Chinese and Russian news outlets agreed. The messaging evolved through Twitter and Telegram to Sputnik and CGTN. Politifact and FactCheck refuted its veracity.

Which is funny because I just listened to a long recitative on PRN about why we should never trust FactCheck and ( obviously) Wikipedia because they are compromised, bought-and-paid-for, corporate hacks who take marching orders from the powers-that-be
as opposed to Sputnik and Alex’s CrazyTown? -btw- Mike Adams was a recent guest.

I should note:
after skimming both NN’s and PRN’s daily broadcasts today, they sound eerily similar to RT. RT -btw- is still available on the net but not on satellite television.

Victoria Nuland, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, testifying at some Senate Committee hearing replying to a question from Senator Marco Rubio.

“Ukraine has biological research facilities which, in fact, we’re now quite concerned Russian troops, Russian forces may be seeking to gain control of, so we are working with the Ukrainians on how we can prevent any of those research materials from falling into the hands of Russian forces should they approach,”

https://news.antiwar.com/2022/03/08/nuland-us-working-with-ukraine-to-keep-biological-research-facilities-out-of-russias-hands/

For once Adams may not be making everything up out of whole cloth.

Adams has a habit of taking a grain of truth and expanding it into a fantasy novel series**. Tolkien he’s not because JRR captured human and historical truths through creative story telling about imaginary creatures and societies.
Adams does bad whiteboy rap about vaccines.

** I know, I know : it’s mixed metaphor because I didn’t like “expanding it into a whole beach” or ” a single phrase” into a four book series.

I’m not sure if ‘Adams may not be making everything up out’ is a great way of building trust and confidence. We should trust him because he might not be lying this time?

BTW, I would think that we would all want to “prevent any of those research materials from falling into the hands of Russian forces”. Don’t you?

Most of the stuff there is probably already in Russian hands. I’m sure a lot of it is crap left over from the Soviet era. Worryingly, they weaponized smallpox. Let’s hope we don’t go there…

@David,

Those research materials originated with the Soviet Union prior to the breakup.
The U.S. signed an agreement with Ukraine back in 2005 to work with them to help dispose of them safely.

This was actually explained to Sean Hannity on Fox, but all Tucker Carlson could think of doing was JAQ off..

It’s all speculative unless you were directly involved. Do we really put it past our government which apparently was funding such research in Wuhan China? I don’t. But who knows?

Sorry Denice, I should have supplied more information.

Here are the Russian accusations.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2bLM0Nm_lSE&t=1s

And here is an interesting list of US-funded labs in Ukraine that a US blogger seems to have found. It looks like the USA spent a lot of money starting in 2010.The blog has always been reliable but I have not verified the information.

I first heard the Russian accusations and then heard Nuland’s response to Rubio. Ack! Just what is so dire about some biological research samples that a non-participant country in the war is afraid that the Russians might capture them?

@John,

I don’t thing that Hannity and friends will ever let the facts get in their way. Must be embracing to call your self a ‘journalist’ and that to say, ‘who knows?’.

The real news here is the intertwining of COVID denialism/antivax rhetoric, anti-democracy/pro-neofascist thematics generally; and pro-Putin/anti-Biden propaganda specifically. It’s all blending into one over-arching narrative.

Which is to say those contributing to this narrative need not make explicit connections between the allegation that the US is behind the covert development of bioweapons in Ukraine, and the allegation that COVID is a bioweapon engineered by the Chinese with “gain of function” research funded Tony Fauci. The audience can readily “connect the dots”. But, some of the usual suspects are still going there, and weaving the conspiratorial threads together. As Foreign Policy reported:

[Steve] Bannon’s War Room podcast heard from former Trump apparatchik Peter Navarro that health advisor Anthony Fauci was at the center of everything. “Whatever happened in the Ukraine,” Navarro said about those biolabs, “he had to know about it.”

The reason InfoWars, NN and PRN sound like RT is the “US has a bioweapons lab in Ukraine” talking point is Kremlin propaganda. This has been covered fairly extensively at WaPo. While a recent iteration of this may appear to have “evolved through Twitter and Telegram to Sputnik”, the Russians have been making related allegations for years now. This isn’t bubbling up from random anonymous conspiracists on social media. No doubt there are sock-puppets in St. Petersburg pushing it out there.

Not that Putin has to go to fringey figures like Alex Jones and Mike Adams to spread his disinformation du jour. He’s got Tucker Carlson, who has gone all in on blaming Democrats for the war in Ukraine since it’s become uncomfortable for him to continue praising Putin and “rooting for Russia” directly. [Of course, he’s the one US cable pundit regularly re-broadcast on Russian state TV.] In fact, it was Carlson’s take-up of the biolab CT — “The Pentagon is lying about bio labs in Ukraine” — that spurred the coverage in the MSM.

[For debunking of the biolab CT, and why the out-of-context quote from Nuland isn’t the ‘gotcha’ the right claims it is, see the coverage at WaPo.]

It’s not just COVID denial pundits and politicos like Carlson and Navarro who have shifted/blended their hot-takes to re-broadcast this Russian propaganda campaign. What actually prompted me to comment on this the discovery that a more familiar subject of this blog had also jumped in, just two days after his featured appearance on DeSantis “Curtain Close on Covid Theater” roundtable. That would be Dr. Robert “inventor of mRNA vaccines” Malone, who substacked (to coin a verb) “Would the Russian invasion of Ukraine be justified if it were for biodefense?” Of course, he’s implying it would and it is. And here is how he explains he came to think the US would be readying a secret biological weapons threat against Russia:

I never really allowed myself to confront the possibility that we might not be the good guys, the white hats. Until I experienced what we have all been through over the last two years. A government (or really multiple governments) that clearly believes that it is justified in disregarding fundamental principles of bioethics and the common rule. And like many others, once I saw that, it was like having backed into a light switch and suddenly the entire room was lit up, and I could never un-see what was revealed.

From what I’ve observed, these wankers will say anything to “scoop” or contradict MSM.
Whilst it’s true that occasionally a reporter, researcher or whistleblower will uncover something quite unsuspected ( which is later absorbed into the MS narrative), these dudes are claiming that about every two weeks on every imaginable topic. Actually, MSM is so hated because it negates their purpose: informing people about consequential issues. In fact, they spend a lot of time explaining why followers shouldn’t trust the mainstream ( and universities) “Just walk away” is their motto. Wikipedia is of course number one of their hit list. ” Real encyclopaedias quote experts but Wikipedia cites ‘anonymous’ “, they say : not understanding how reliable sources work!

Of course, it is enlightening to go back and check out their predictions and concerns of the past because they archive their pearls of wisdom for posterity. Most famously, PRN in 2008: “Get out of the stock market: it will never recover!” Heh!

If there’s any good to come of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it’s that RT America has finally been kicked off the air for good and will dry up media appearances for RFK Jr et al.I wonder how/if divided attention by Russia will diminish the level of antivaccine dezinformatsia targeted at the US post-invasion and post-pandemic.

Yeah, sadly this is the way disinformation has been going for quite some time. Part of it is due to Russian disinformation campaigns, but I would argue that more of it, at least now with respect to the “Ukrainian bioweapons lab” propaganda and disinformation, is due to a convenient confluence between a common antivax narrative that any new pathogen causing an outbreak, epidemic, or pandemic must have come from a lab, often as an “escaped bioweapon,” and Russian propaganda to justify its brutal invasion of Ukraine.

@Orac

My last comment may have overemphasized Russian origins for this specific bio weapons CT. Internet sleuths have traced the viral outbreak back to a Twitter account in the US. But I think “convenient confluence” suggests more of a chance alignment of different interests, and what we have here is, perhaps not any kind of coordinated scheme, but intertwined expressions of a core ideology: an alt-right, neo-fascist project that embraces both Trumpism in the US, and Putinism in Eastern Europe. That Twitter account [@WarClandestine] belongs not to someone motivated by antivax belief, but rather someone adopting antivax as part of a wider Q-Anon style Trump personality cult. He has called for the execution of Tony Fauci and the Ottawa police, but those are just a few of the many executions of supposed opponents of Trump and/or “freedom” he’s called for.

Of course, this one guy is just an exemplar, and it wouldn’t matter in the end whether the first Tweet came from the FSB, CHD, or Q himself. What matters is what defines the channels through which it spreads. And my point, I guess, is that it’s kind of pointless to try sort those into “antivax”, “alt-right”, “Q-loony”, or “Russian disinformation”. It’s all one thing, part of a war of authoritarianism against… well… the Enlightenment, more or less: you know, democracy, truth, science…

Here’s their normal.

Health care rationing.
Increased health insurance premiums.
A drop in quality of treatment for conditions other than COVID.
Productivity lost to deaths and illness.
A lower quality of life for everyone.

And did I mention higher gas prices?

Here’s their normal.

Health care rationing.
Increased health insurance premiums.
A drop in quality of treatment for conditions other than COVID.
Productivity lost to deaths and illness.
A lower quality of life for everyone.

And did I mention higher gas prices?

All of this is happening right now. Are you talking about the current administration and folks in charge? I’m confused.

@ Bargy

Indeed, you are confused as evidenced by your posts (laughing most of the time). When will you be smart or wise? No one takes that bet.

Oh of course, higher gas prices, boom shakalaka boom. My guess is you are eating cat food as sustenance, but you will lie to us some more to get out of that can. We got ya.

Anyway, you entertain and inform in detectable ways (IMHO).

Do you support US citizens living against COVID-19 or not? That’s what we want to know.

You must miss the normal, pre-pandemic situation of:
Health care rationing – for anyone without money
Increased health insurance premiums.
A drop in quality of treatment – for anyone without money.
Productivity lost to deaths and illness – for anyone without money.
A lower quality of life for everyone – without money.

I couldn’t help but notice that DeSantis was distanced from the two groups in that roundtable picture… still living in fear, Governor?

Umm I would have guess Desantis is Mini Trump. Did not consider this angle too.

I’ve always thought that Ted Cruz resembles a cross between Senator Joseph McCarthy and Eddie from The Munsters.

The concern is mostly “if the Russians blow it up or otherwise mishandle things it would be bad, so safely dispose of it before that becomes possible”. Biosafety labs and urban warfare really aren’t a good combination.

I would say that a nuclear plant is a greater issue (remember Chernobyl, in Ukraine).

The Urgency in New York right now relates to whether the city will ease its vaccination rules to allow the unvaccinated Kyrie Irving to play in home games for the Brooklyn Nets.

Irving has been unavailable for those games this season, leaving his team barely qualifying for the playoffs. So teammate Kevin Durant is blaming…N.Y. mayor Eric Adams.

“It just feels like at this point now, somebody’s trying to make a statement or a point to flex their authority. But everybody out here is looking for attention and that’s what I feel like the mayor wants right now, is some attention. But he’ll figure it out soon. He better.”

That’s it, threaten the mayor. Way to go.

Irving has always been the one who craves attention, like the penguin in the enormous flock of penguins in that Far Side cartoon. “I gotta be me!”

Want to respond to Orac? Here's your chance. Leave a reply! Just make sure that you've read the Comment Policy (link located in the main menu in the upper right hand corner of the page) first if you're new here!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: