The exchange on Friday between Fox News Channel anchor Bret Baier and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle WalenskyRochelle WalenskyUS vaccinations tick up as delta variant spreads Public health expert: ‘Biden absolutely declared a victory too soon’ Delta variant raises fears of worsening mutations 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.
“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:
U.S. CDC DIRECTOR SAYS FEDERALLY MANDATING COVID-19 VACCINATION IS SOMETHING THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION IS LOOKING AT -FOX NEWS INTERVIEW
— Berkeley Lovelace (@BerkeleyJr) July 30, 2021
.@BerkeleyJr To clarify: There will be no nationwide mandate. I was referring to mandates by private institutions and portions of the federal government. There will be no federal mandate.
— Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH (@CDCDirector) July 30, 2021
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.
Poll Finds Public Health Has A Trust Problem https://t.co/yGoBN8ByJn
— NPR Health News (@NPRHealth) May 13, 2021
Trust in CDC, FDA Took a Beating During Pandemic. Many healthcare professionals no longer trust the CDC and FDA. Maybe that’s one reason why many of them are refusing the Covid vaccine. #Covid_19https://t.co/30kn6OfwK5
— Luke Yamaguchi (@gutresolution) July 3, 2021
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 MaddowBudowsky: How Biden can defeat COVID-19 for good Democratic group launches seven-figure ad campaign on voting rights bill GOP’s attacks on Fauci at center of pandemic message 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.
How did CDC Director Rochelle Walensky go from asserting so definitively *just 2 months ago* that there is no health reason for vaccinated people to wear masks, to issuing today’s alarmist message about vaccine-resistant strains? There were variants then:pic.twitter.com/apSDki3JV5
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) July 27, 2021
“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 Axelrod
I trust the experts at the CDC to follow the science but the C clearly doesn’t stand for COMMUNICATIONS!
Too little has been done to foreshadow and explain the changing directives that variable conditions require.
— David Axelrod (@davidaxelrod) July 29, 2021
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.