CDC's Walensky is the wrong media messenger on COVID-19 

CDC's Walensky is the wrong media messenger on COVID-19 
© Greg Nash

The exchange on Friday between Fox News Channel anchor Bret Baier and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle WalenskyRochelle WalenskyOvernight Health Care — Biden defends push for vaccine mandates CDC: Unvaccinated 11 times more likely to die from COVID-19 AmeriCorps partnering with CDC to recruit, train public health leaders MORE perfectly encapsulated the federal government’s patently poor communications on the COVID-19 virus. 

"Are you for mandating a vaccine on a federal level?" Baier asked. 

“You know, that’s something that I think the administration is looking into. It’s something that I think we are looking to see approval of from the vaccine," Walensky replied.

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"Overall, I think in general, I am all for more vaccination. But, you know — I have nothing further to say on that except that we’re looking into those policies," she added. 

The answer quickly caught fire on social media, prompting Walensky to directly respond to a CNBC reporter who noted – in an ALL-CAPS tweet – the revelation around federally mandating vaccinations: 

 

 

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Portions of the federal government? That's quite a difference from Walensky's original answer, which was seen by infinitely more people than her clarification on Twitter. 

It's no wonder trust in the CDC has plummeted since riding high last year during the early months of the pandemic. A recent NPR poll shows barely half of Americans have a great deal of trust in the CDC. A May WebMD-Medscape poll gets even worse, with 77 percent saying their trust in the CDC has decreased since the start of the pandemic. It's hard to see how that number isn't even higher as we enter August. 

 

 

To be fair, Walensky isn’t the only one to blame for all of this; the problem started during the Trump administration. But Walensky’s flip-flops have become all too common. It was just two months ago that she went on “The Rachel MaddowRachel Anne MaddowRachel Maddow extends contract with MSNBC: reports OAN loses appeal in defamation lawsuit against Rachel Maddow Nunes sues MSNBC, alleging Rachel Maddow defamed him MORE Show” to declare that vaccinated people didn't have to wear masks anymore. And, yes, cases of the delta variant had been recorded for some time before that declaration was made. 

"Forgive me for speaking in impersonal terms and I don’t mean to be too blunt about this, but how sure are you?” Maddow asked Walensky about dropping mask mandates on May 13. “Because this feels like a really big change.”

“We're sure,” Walensky responded. “There’s an extraordinary amount of evidence now that demonstrates the vaccines are working in the real world, in cohort studies, in care facilities, in — across all states, that these vaccines are working the way they worked in the clinical trials. Importantly, there’s also new data just even in the last two weeks that demonstrates these vaccines are working in — against the variants that we have circulating here in the United States, and also data has emerged that has demonstrated that if you are vaccinated, you are less likely, not likely, to asymptomatically shed the virus and give to it others."  

That narrative of which Walensky was so sure then has now, of course, been completely turned on its head. Masks are back. Breakthrough cases are primarily driven by the delta variant. Vaccinated people with COVID can shed the virus at the same rate as the unvaccinated, per Walensky's CDC

Predictably, there have been conflicting reactions to the CDC's new mask mandate, with the American Medical Association agreeing and former U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb insisting it’s overly broad.

"I trust the experts at the CDC to follow the science but the ‘C’ clearly doesn’t stand for COMMUNICATIONS!” tweeted David AxelrodDavid AxelrodThe Memo: Democrats vent frustration with Biden on Afghanistan Psaki dismisses Axelrod's criticism of Biden on Afghanistan Axelrod says Biden should have 'embraced' failures of Afghanistan exit MORE, former senior adviser to President Obama. “Too little has been done to foreshadow and explain the changing directives that variable conditions require,"

 

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Moving forward, the CDC needs to take a walk out to the figurative media mound, send Walensky back to the bench and replace her with a competent, professional, disciplined spokesperson. One who understands that words have consequences. One who understands word economy. One the public can trust.

Because not to do so will only lead to more public mistrust, more anger and more confusion over how best to defeat this virus, once and for all. 

Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist for The Hill and a Fox News contributor.