It is not uncommon for politicians or bureaucrats to lie. What seems to be unique, though, is just how common and consequential the lies were during the COVID pandemic.
On Monday, we got a bombshell. New documents indicate the entire justification for vaccine mandates was based on a falsehood — and that public health officials knew it.
Emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show that CDC Director Rochelle Walensky and former NIH Director Francis Collins were aware of, and discussed, “breakthrough cases” of COVID in January 2021 — right when the vaccines became widely available. In her email, Walensky says that “clearly,” it is an “important area of study,” links to a study raising the issue, and assures the person she is sending it to that Dr. Anthony Fauci is looped into these conversations.
However, in public, Walensky was saying something quite different. Two months after discussing this data, she said vaccinated people “don’t carry the virus” and “don’t get sick.” In a congressional hearing, after it became clear people were able to get infected with COVID even after receiving the vaccine, she defended her original statements by claiming it was true at the time she said it — namely, for the strands we were dealing with in early 2021.
We now know that was not true and that Walensky herself knew it was not true.
Jay Bhattacharya, a professor at the Stanford School of Medicine, called the revelation “stunning.” He pointed out that despite this knowledge, “they continued to push vax mandates anyway.”
This is the real scandal, as there is little harm in getting something like this wrong in a vacuum. After all, COVID-19 vaccines certainly saved many, many lives and reduced the severity of infection for many more. But the fact vaccine mandates were pushed, even though those in charge knew people could contract and spread the virus while vaccinated, is indefensible. That they mislead the public on this makes it even worse.
If the vaccine stopped COVID dead in its tracks, as Fauci explained, then the decision to institute a vaccine mandate would merely be a controversial yet ultimately legitimate public health measure. The fact it did not do that but rather had primarily personal benefits completely removes the justification for mandates.
The Biden administration tried to impose a vaccine mandate on employers, thousands of people were fired from their jobs, and there was a time when unvaccinated people were not even allowed into restaurants in some of the country’s largest cities.
And it was all based on a lie.
There must be a substantive reckoning within our public health institutions and government more generally in the aftermath of the pandemic. From vaccines to masks to schools to economic aid, it seems that each aspect of the pandemic was accompanied by its own set of lies and distortions. There is a reason trust in our institutions has taken such a hit in recent years.
If those in charge do not, at some point, recognize what they did, commit not to do it again, and actually act differently next time they are in a similar situation, then institutional trust will continue to get worse.