The Office of the Surgeon General requested information on the prevalence of health misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact of such misinformation on the U.S. public health system in order to be better prepared to respond to a future public health crisis.
We agree that misinformation has been a major problem during the pandemic. The spread of inaccurate scientific information has made it difficult for the public to make the right decisions to protect themselves, their families, and their communities from COVID-19 and the collateral public health damage arising from the pandemic countermeasures. As such, the disinformation has led to great harm in the lives and livelihoods of Americans. We submit the following examples of disinformation from the CDC and other health organizations that have shattered the public’s trust in science and public health and will take decades to repair.
1 Overcounting COVID-19: The official CDC numbers for COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations are inaccurate. The official tallies include many people who have died with rather than from COVID-19. CDC has not distinguished deaths where COVID-19 was the primary cause of death, where COVID-19 was a contributing cause of death, or where the death was entirely unrelated to COVID-19, but they incidentally tested positive.
There are three reasons for this problem. (i) The counting of COVID-19 cases and deaths is unlike the way that public health counts the incidence and mortality caused by other diseases; physicians have been advised to fill out death certificates to privilege COVID-19 as a proximal cause, even when the medical facts suggest otherwise.1 (ii) The population-wide testing to identify asymptomatic individuals infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus is unprecedented in human history. (iii) Although it would have been easy, CDC has not conducted random national surveys of medical charts to determine what proportion of reported COVID-19 deaths were truly due to COVID-19. Ex-post audits of death certificates and medical records in
Santa Clara County2 and Alameda County3, California, for instance, found that in ~25% of death certificates in which COVID-19 was labeled as the primary cause of death, other causes of death were more likely. The peer-reviewed literature confirms that COVID-19 is overcounted in other developed countries. Ex post audits of death certificates should be conducted to establish an accurate death count from COVID-19.
2 Questioning Natural Immunity: There has been consistent questioning and denying of natural immunity after COVID-19 recovery. Using seriously flawed studies, CDC falsely claimed that natural immunity is worse than vaccine acquired immunity.4 In October 2020, the CDC director published a “memorandum” in The Lancet, questioning natural immunity.5 Most critically, by mandating vaccination for people who have recovered from COVID-19, the government, corporations, and universities de facto deny natural immunity.
For scientists, this has been the most surprising disinformation. We have known about natural immunity since the Athenian Plague in 430 BC; other coronaviruses generate natural immunity; and throughout the pandemic, we knew that the COVID-19 recovered have good natural immunity if and when they get exposed the next time. That is, six months after the start of the pandemic, we had epidemiological evidence that natural immunity lasts at least six months; a year into the pandemic, we knew that natural immunity lasted at least one year, and so on. 6