Redfield says Azar pressured him to revise COVID-19 data reports

Former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield said in an interview that aired Sunday that former Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar pressured him to revise reports on COVID-19.

Redfield told Sanjay Gupta as part of a CNN special report that his relationship with Azar grew shaky throughout the coronavirus pandemic, saying he was “most offended by” calls from his office to adjust the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). 

“The one time that was the most egregious was not only was I pressured by the secretary and his office and his lawyers, but as I was driving home, his lawyer and his chief of staff called and pressured me again for at least another hour,” Redfield told Gupta on CNN’s “Covid War: The Pandemic Doctors Speak Out.”

“Even to the point of, like, accusing me of failing to make this change that would cost, you know, thousands of lives,” he said.

“I finally had a moment in life where I said, you know, enough is enough,” Redfield added. “You know? If you want to fire me, fire me. I’m not changing the MMWR.”

In his interview, Redfield appeared to confirm earlier reports, including from The Associated Press in December, about the CDC facing pressure by Trump administration officials to edit the MMWR, frequently called “the voice of CDC. 

The former CDC director continued by saying Azar “may deny that, but it’s true.”

Azar denied Redfield’s account of events in a statement to The Hill.

“From the beginning of this pandemic, I insisted on giving the public and media access to both critical information and data as soon as we had it, as well as to our scientist,” Azar said. “I have always stood for and defended the scientific independence of the MMWR and other evidence and science-based publications and disclosures from HHS and its agencies, and Dr. Redfield knows this. Any suggestion that I pressured or otherwise asked Dr. Redfield to change the content of a single scientific, peer-reviewed MMWR article is false.”

In a separate joint statement to the network, Azar and his deputies said they “always regarded the MMWR as sacrosanct.” 

Former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Stephen Hahn also criticized Azar in his interview with Gupta, saying the secretary prevented the FDA from regulating lab-developed tests which was “a line in the sand for me.”

“It was reported in the press that we had a shouting match,” Hahn said during the special report. “I can 100 percent assure you that I did not shout and scream at the secretary of Health and Human Services.”

When asked if Azar shouted at him, Hahn responded, “You should ask him that question,” before acknowledging there was “pressure.”

“If someone’s trying to ask me to do something that I don’t think is right and my patient, the American people, need something different,” Hahn said before shrugging. 

In a statement to CNN, Azar said “Hahn’s recitation of this call is incorrect,” asserting that “the only intemperate conduct … was Dr. Hahn’s threat to resign,” which Hahn denies happened. 

“FDA’s illegal assertion of jurisdiction over common lab developed tests … slowed the development of U.S. COVID testing,” Azar said in the statement.

Tags CDC Centers for Disease Control and Prevention CNN CNN Special Report Coronavirus COVID-19 MMWR Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report Pandemic Robert Redfield Stephen Hahn

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