Complaint: Did Political Considerations Override the Science in the CDC’s Recommendations to Vaccinate Young Children?

Complaint: Did Political Considerations Override the Science in the CDC’s Recommendations to Vaccinate Young Children?

  • August 10, 2022

Watchdog alleges CDC actions and statements violated scientific integrity policies

Today, Protect the Public’s Trust announced a scientific integrity complaint against the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) alleging officials at these agencies may have allowed policy and political considerations to trump data and science when recommending COVID-19 vaccines for children under the age of five.

Upon entering office, the Biden Administration issued a Memorandum on Restoring Trust in Government Through Scientific Integrity and Evidence-Based Policymaking. This document declared, “Scientific findings should never be distorted or influenced by political considerations.” Further, the memo stated the administration’s policy would be to “make evidence-based decisions guided by the best available science and data.” The CDC’s long-standing scientific integrity policy claims the agency “has a responsibility to conduct the best science and is committed to disseminating scientific findings and results without being influenced by policy or political issues.” FDA’s policy regarding scientific integrity pledges to “Protect the integrity of scientific data and ensuring its accurate presentation, including the underlying assumptions and uncertainties.”

The CDC’s own data suggests that the agency based its decision to recommend that children receive the COVID-19 vaccine on policy and political, rather than scientific, considerations. This is particularly true with respect to the CDC’s recommendation that children receive the Pfizer vaccine. The stated goal of a COVID vaccine is preventing symptomatic infection. Yet, the CDC itself noted that it has “very low” confidence that the Pfizer vaccine actually prevents symptomatic infection. This suggests that other considerations are predominating over scientific concerns. These concerns are amplified by the statements of high-level CDC officials, who have been quoted in press sources suggesting that the Pfizer vaccine is little better than a placebo.

While the evidence in support of the Moderna vaccine is better, it still falls short of what is to be expected for such a far-reaching recommendation. Moreover, the CDC’s data suggests that severe adverse events were more common with the Moderna vaccine than with a placebo, further indicating that the decision to broadly administer the Moderna vaccine may not be costless.

Even in light of this evidence, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) issued interim recommendations for the use of both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for children aged 6 months to five years, determining “that the benefits of vaccination outweigh risks for this population.” The ACIP recommendation itself suggests that political or policy concerns may have tipped the scales in favor of recommending vaccination. For instance, ACIP noted “COVID-19 vaccination in this age group may provide parents with increased confidence to return to pre-pandemic activities, improving social interactions in young children.”

Despite the uncertainty with respect to the vaccines’ effectiveness and the potential for adverse effects, prominent officials, including the President, Secretary of Health and Human Services, CDC Director, and FDA Director, all issued unequivocal statements regarding the safety and efficacy of the vaccines for young children. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, for example, declared, “we now know based on rigorous scientific review that the vaccines available here in the United States can be used safely and effectively in children under 5.”

“Taken together, along with the paucity of data supporting the efficacy of the vaccines themselves, the unequivocal public messaging by senior officials suggests that the CDC’s vaccine recommendations for those younger than five may have been driven by policy and political concerns rather than scientific data to improve the health of children,” stated Michael Chamberlain, Director of Protect the Public’s Trust. “The Biden Administration came into office promising that decisions would be based on science and data rather than policy and political considerations. Still, this is not the first instance in which Protect the Public’s Trust has noticed an inconsistency between the science and the actions at the CDC. It is little wonder that trust in our leading health officials, such a valuable commodity, continues to fall.”