CDC Director Rochelle Walensky Dodges Question on Sonia Sotomayor’s Covid-19 Misinformation

CDC director Rochelle Walensky on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., May 11, 2021 (Greg Nash/Reuters)

Earlier today, I noted that if public-health officials wanted to rebuild public trust, they would call out misinformation from those irrationally or excessively worried about the virus, as much as they called out misinformation from those insufficiently worried about the virus. Right around that time, one of our most prominent public-health officials was doing everything possible to avoid calling out a prominent figure on the left for ludicrous, wildly inaccurate Covid-19 misinformation.

On Fox News Sunday, anchor Bret Baier gave CDC Director Rochelle Walensky every possible opportunity to point out that Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was offering inaccurate nonsense when she contended that more than 100,000 American children were in in serious condition and many on ventilators, because of Covid-19. And Walensky just kept going back to her talking points about the importance of getting kids vaccinated.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

SONIA SOTOMAYOR, U.S. SUPREME COURT ASSOCIATE JUSTICE: We have over 100,000 children, which we’ve never had before, in serious condition and many on ventilators.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BAIER: Now, what we can find from Friday suggest there are fewer than 3,500 current pediatric hospitalizations from COVID-19. Is that true?

WALENSKY: Yeah. But, you know, here’s what I can tell you about our pediatric hospitalizations now. First of all, the vast majority of children who are in the hospital are unvaccinated, and for those children who are not eligible for vaccination, we do know that they are most likely to get sick with COVID if their family members aren’t vaccinated. So the most important thing we can do for those children to keep them out of the hospital is to vaccinate them and to vaccinate their family members around them. We also know that —

BAIER: Understood, but the number is not 100,000. It’s roughly 3,500 in hospitals now.

WALENSKY: It — yes, there are — there are — and in fact what I will say is, while pediatric hospitalizations are rising, there are still about 15- fold least than hospitalizations of our older age demographics.

BAIER: Do you have a number of children on ventilators?

WALENSKY: I do not have that off the top of my head, but what I can say is for it — I don’t believe there are any in many of these hospitals who are vaccinated. So, really, the highest risk of being on a ventilator if your child is if you’re unvaccinated.

We also have recent data out just this week that’s demonstrated that dangerous MIS-C syndrome that we are seeing in children, 91 percent protection if you’ve been vaccinated.

BAIER: But the risk of death or serious illness in children is still very small, right?

WALENSKY: Comparatively the risk of death is small, but, of course, you know, children aren’t supposed to die.

BAIER: Yeah.

WALENSKY: So, you know, if we have a child who’s been — who is sick with COVID-19, we want to make sure that they — we want to protect them, of course.

BAIER: Right. But I’m talking from your data, ages 15 to 24, for example, the risk of death is at 0.001 percent. I guess what I’m getting at in this opening is that the Supreme Court is in the process of dealing with this big issue about mandates. And do you feel responsibility as the CDC director to correct a very big mischaracterization by one of the Supreme Court justices?

WALENSKY: Yeah, here’s what I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you that, right now, 17 — if you’re unvaccinated, you’re 17 times more likely to be in the hospital and 20 times more likely to die than if you’re boosted. And so, what my responsibility is, is to provide guidance and recommendations to protect the American people. Those recommendations strongly recommend vaccination for our children above the age of 5 and boosting for everyone above the age of 18 if they’re eligible.

When public-health officials denounce misinformation about the pandemic, what they usually mean is misinformation that comes from the powerless people — Aunt Edna sharing absurd theories on Facebook that if everybody in the ICU took some Vitamin C or colloidal silver then they would be up and feeling great in no time. President Joe Biden can say, “How about making sure that you’re vaccinated, so you do not spread the disease to anyone else,” and no public-health official blinks. Rachel Maddow declares, “The virus stops with every vaccinated person. . . . It cannot use a vaccinated person as a host to get more people,” and no public-health official objects. If you’re prominent and important enough, and you’re on the correct side of the ideological divide, your false statements about Covid-19 don’t count, apparently.

Also, notice how Walensky chose to answer the simple question, “is Omicron as deadly as Delta?”

BAIER: But, you know, the questioning in the Supreme Court also said that omicron was as deadly as delta. That is not true, right?

WALENSKY: I’m sorry? I didn’t hear you.

BAIER: Omicron is not as deadly as delta, at least by your data right now, right?

WALENSKY: We are starting to see data from other countries that indicate on a person by person basis, it may not be. However, given the volume of cases that we are seeing with omicron, we very well may see death rates rise dramatically.

Come on. We’re seeing a spectacular rise in cases alongside a small bump in deaths. Cases grew by more than 225 percent in the past two weeks, while the number of deaths has increased by only 12 percent. Of course the Omicron variant is less likely to kill you than the Delta variant. If Omicron was as likely to kill you as Delta was, we would be seeing a massive death rate right now.  Yes, because Omicron spreads quicker, this variant has better odds of reaching someone who is particularly vulnerable to it — the immunocompromised, the elderly, the unvaccinated with no acquired immunity from previous infection, those with multiple comorbidities, etc. But that’s not what Baier asked; Walensky seems terrified of saying anything that could suggest this wave isn’t going to be as deadly as previous waves.

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