In a public statement issued on June 16, 2023, President Biden announced his intent to name Mandy Cohen, MD, MPH to succeed Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH as the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The statement confirms a June 1 report by The Washington Post that the President was planning on picking Dr. Cohen, 44, to take over for Dr. Walensky.1 2 3 4 5
Media Misreports While House’s CDC Nominee Announcement
Interestingly, contrary to what has been reported in numerous media articles over the past two weeks, President Biden has not actually appointed Dr. Cohen to be the new CDC director—merely his intention to do so. Perhaps the best example of egregious reporting is the following headline in the Atlanta Business Chronicle: “Mandy Cohen confirmed as CDC’s new chief.” Then there is CNN’s misleading headline… “Biden taps Dr. Mandy Cohen for top role as next CDC director” and NBC News’ equally deceptive, “Biden picks North Carolina’s former health chief, Mandy Cohen, to run CDC.”6 7 8
Finally, there is Newsday’s outright false, “Dr. Mandy Cohen, new CDC director, left her mark in Baldwin when she was Mandy Krauthamer” and The Washington Times’ similarly false, “Biden formally picks Mandy Cohen to serve as next CDC director.9 10
You have to wonder if anyone who works at these news outlets even bothered to read the White House press release titled, “President Biden Announces Intent to Appoint Dr. Mandy Cohen as Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”4
Eventually, The New York Times staff got it right. Their headline correctly read: “Biden Says He Plans to Appoint Mandy Cohen as CDC Director.” As did UPI… “President Joe Biden intends to nominate Mandy Cohen as CDC director.”11 12
It appears that the appointment of Dr. Cohen may still be up in the air, which is odd. Otherwise, why not just outright announce the appointment, particularly given that Dr. Walensky’s last day on the job at CDC will be June 30? Why all the last minute suspense?
An article in The Washington Post published on June 16 noted that, according to officials, Dr. Cohen’s “first day at the CDC will be in early July,” which would seem to suggest that the appointment is a done deal. But the lack of a specific starting date may also indicate some degree of hesitation with the intended appointment. The article mentioned that Dr. Cohen “declined to comment on the announcement.” 1 2
Cohen Viewed as Partisan Political Player During Pandemic
One of the problems with choosing Dr. Cohen to head the CDC is that there is Republican opposition to the idea in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. As I mentioned in a recent opinion piece in The Vaccine Reaction, there is a feeling among some Republican legislators that Dr. Cohen is too much of a partisan player in controversial COVID policies such as the lockdowns, forced masking and mandatory COVID vaccinations. This feeling was expressed in a letter to President Biden signed by 28 members of Congress on June 13…1 13
While Dr. Cohen claims to have acted on scientific data, her account of her decision- making during the pandemic suggests she merely arbitrarily copied actions of her colleagues in similar positions of power, without considering scientific evidence or the decisions of elected officials.13
The believed harm caused by lockdowns and COVID pandemic policies and their questionable benefits remains a subject of growing debate and division within the country. There is a sense by some that these policies were misguided and politically motivated and that, as a result, the CDC has lost considerable credibility and trust among Americans. This has led to a general consensus in the country that the CDC is in need of a major overhaul—a clear break from the culture at the agency that has eroded its standing during the pandemic.14 15 16
A ‘Fauci acolyte’?
The main objection to Dr. Cohn is that she is seen as being too closely aligned with the controversial COVID policies that have so damaged the agency she is favored to lead. As North Carolina’s Secretary of Health and Human Services (2017-2021), she enthusiastically backed the strictest COVID lockdown, masking and other restrictions. In an article for the Foundation for Economic Education, Jon Miltimore describes Dr. Cohen as having “represented the worst of the COVID autocracy.” He characterizes her as a “Fauci acolyte.”17
In an article in New York’s City Journal, Carl Schramm writes:
President Biden’s choice of Walensky’s successor would seem to send another signal that improving the CDC holds little importance for the White House. The president’s nominee, Mandy Cohen, resembles her predecessor: she is a member of the clubby establishment of right-thinking officials who see their life’s work not so much as protecting public health as leveraging public-health threats, imaginary or otherwise, as justifications for imposing new rules about how others live their lives.18
Calls for “Cultural Overhaul” at CDC
“The CDC needs a cultural overhaul,” said U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana. Unfortunately, Dr. Cohen may just represent more of the same old culture at the agency that got much of the COVID science so wrong—a realization that is gradually surfacing within the medical and scientific communities.1 19 20 21 22
As medical student and researcher Kevin Bass wrote in Newsweek earlier this year:
I can see now that the scientific community from the CDC to the WHO to the FDA and their representatives, repeatedly overstated the evidence and misled the public about its own views and policies, including on natural vs. artificial immunity, school closures and disease transmission, aerosol spread, mask mandates, and vaccine effectiveness and safety, especially among the young. All of these were scientific mistakes at the time, not in hindsight. 19
Epidemiologist and professor of medicine at Stanford University Jay Bhattacharya, MD, PhD added:
We endured three years of useless and divisive policies, including lockdowns, church and business closures, Zoom schools, mask mandates, and vaccine mandates and discrimination.
Contrary to what you hear these days from those making poor decisions throughout the pandemic, many of the errors were not honest mistakes. Public health embraced positions at odds with the scientific evidence throughout the pandemic, for instance, by pretending that immunity after COVID recovery does not exist, and by overstating the ability of the vaccine to stop COVID infection and transmission. Despite many getting vaccinated, COVID spread and people died anyway, with tremendous collateral harm—both economic and in terms of public health—deriving from the favored policies of our public health institutions.23
“Someone in the confirmation hearing should ask the new @cdcgov director nominee about how she got the science so consequentially wrong,” Dr. Bhattacharya wrote on Twitter.24
That’s a great question for Dr. Cohen and for those who support her nomination for such an important and difficult post.
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1 Cáceres M. CDC Director Nominee Declared “Unfit” for Politicizing Science. The Vaccine Reaction June 18, 2023.
2 Diamond D, Sun LH. Biden announces physician Mandy Cohen will lead CDC. The Washington Post June 16, 2023.
3 Huang P. Biden taps Mandy Cohen — former North Carolina health secretary — to lead CDC. NPR June 16, 2023.
4 Press Release. President Biden Announces Intent to Appoint Dr. Mandy Cohen as Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The White House June 16, 2023.
5 Weixel M. Biden selects Mandy Cohen as next CDC director. The Hill June 16, 2023.
6 Grapevine R. Mandy Cohen confirmed as CDC’s new chief. Atlanta Business Chronicle June 16, 2023.
7 Klein B. Biden taps Dr. Mandy Cohen for top role as next CDC director. CNN June 16, 2023.
8 Associated Press. Biden picks North Carolina’s former health chief, Mandy Cohen, to run CDC. NBC News June 16, 2023.
9 Werkmeister J. Dr. Mandy Cohen, new CDC director, left her mark in Baldwin when she was Mandy Krauthamer. Newsday June 17, 2023.
10 Howell T. Biden formally picks Mandy Cohen to serve as next CDC director. The Washington Times June 16, 2023.
11 Weiland N. Biden Says He Plans to Appoint Mandy Cohen as CDC Director. The New York Times June 16, 2023.
12 Hilsman P. President Joe Biden intends to nominate Mandy Cohen as CDC director. UPI June 16, 2023.
13 Congress of the United States. Budd-Biden-CDC-Director-Nomination. June 13, 2023.
14 Numerof R. How The CDC Can Restore Trust And Credibility. Forbes Sept. 12, 2022.
15 Pollard MS, Davis LM. Decline in Trust in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Rand Health June 2022; 9(3): 23.
16 Schramm C. CDC needs serious scrutiny to restore Americans’ trust in science. The Hill Mar. 8, 2022.
17 Miltimore J. How the New Pick to Lead the CDC Represented the Worst of the Covid Autocracy. Foundation for Economic Education June 12, 2023.
18 Schramm CJ. Can the CDC’s Reputation Be Restored? City Journal June 12, 2023.
19 Bass K. It’s Time for the Scientific Community to Admit We Were Wrong About COVID and It Cost Lives | Opinion. Newsweek Jan. 30, 2023.
20 Bardhan A. Why Did The CDC Get So Much About COVID-19 Wrong? Inverse Apr. 12, 2022.
21 McCaughey B. The CDC’s reign of error has done incalculable harm to America. New York Post Apr. 27, 2021.
22 Ogbunu CB. Scientists Need to Admit What They Got Wrong About Covid. Wired Apr. 1, 2021.
23 Bhattacharya J. The Power of Public Health Agencies Must Be Curbed. The Vaccine Reaction May 29, 2023.
24 Christenson J. Biden’s likely pick for new CDC director loosely followed her own COVID protocols, laughed off lockdowns. New York Post June 2, 2023.