The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) slow and poor response has handicapped the US fight against the COVID-19 Pandemic. The latest example of their incompetence has cost ~8k Americans their lives including that of Colin Powell.
Since the first vaccines were given to Americans in December 2020, there were always nagging questions about how good were the vaccines’ efficacy, safety, and durability in real life. The vaccines were developed, tested, and approved remarkably fast causing many Americans to have questions. The correct approach would have been to collect as much data as possible afterward to determine the real-life efficacy, safety, and durability of these vaccines. Instead of doing this, the CDC arrogantly decided that breakthrough cases (infections after being fully vaccinated) would be rare and mostly mild and would concentrate on collecting select data for serious cases that resulted in hospitalizations and deaths. This was substandard compared to other countries such as the UK and Israel that collected much more thorough information.
Since early July I began to question the wisdom of such a strategy and began collecting and analyzing the very crude weekly breakthrough reports that the CDC did provide. It was immediately clear to me that breakthrough hospitalizations and deaths were not rare as advertised but potentially a serious problem. For certain weeks, breakthrough deaths constituted near 9% of all COVID-19 deaths in the USA. I reported this and many dismissed the problem as mainly for seniors and the immunocompromised. I conceded that it may be true but lacking the detailed demographic and vaccine information that the CDC withheld from the public, there was no way to determine this for certain. In any case, it would not have been surprising were it the case because most states followed a senior’s first program to vaccinate seniors who were most vulnerable to the disease in January. Ironically this left seniors most vulnerable to the vaccine’s waning efficacy that began in June, 5 months after their second dose.
Seniors became the “canaries in the coal mine” sacrificed to die because the CDC failed to collect and release breakthrough data in a timely fashion. As it turns out in the more detailed data the CDC just released last week, they had information that showed Johnson and Johnson’s (J&J) single-dose vaccine was not as effective as people had hoped. This should have led them to ask J&J to go back and evaluate a two-dose strategy. The data also showed that both the Moderna and Pfizer mRNA vaccines were showing signs of fading. This showed up in real-world death counts as the Delta gained strength in July. Breakthrough deaths suddenly began to rise.
Now with detailed CDC demographics data, we know the deaths occurred mostly in the 65+ population.
The CDC, of course, saw all this but their public message even last month was still that breakthrough cases, hospitalizations, and deaths were rare – lulling seniors into believing that boosters were not necessary. Coupled with the CDC decision to relax indoor masking requirements for the vaccinated, this became deadly. By early August it was hard to deny the truth and the White House announced an aggressive schedule to roll out boosters by mid-September.
Unfortunately for some mysterious and possibly criminal reasons, the CDC decided not to share this information with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or any other scientists so that the FDA delayed scheduling their first meeting to consider boosters to 9/17 much later than they should have. In the meantime the CDC’s lack of transparency caused critics to say that the President was not following the science but instead influencing the science. The FDA was also not blameless in this fiasco because when they finally did meet they reviewed the UK and Israeli data but considered American data crucial and lacking. This was extremely parochial of them. The virus does not care whether it infects Americans, Brits, Israelis, Asians, or whomever. The pandemic is a global one and the Israeli experience was highly relevant and informative. When the FDA and CDC finally approved the boosters on 9/24, 5 weeks behind the original target date, ~8k more fully vaccinated Americans had died unnecessarily because they did not have proper guidance or access to boosters. Now the CDC may be playing catch up again because the 55-65 yo that got vaccinated in March will soon experience waning vaccine efficacy. Such incompetence and interagency bickering are criminal and Congress should investigate why it happened so that it does not happen again.