University of Florida faculty member Sonja A. Rasmussen, M.D., was invited to offer testimony at a recent hearing hosted by the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis and the U.S. Comptroller General.
The hearing examined a report released April 29 by the Government Accountability Office that found scientists at four federal agencies observed political interference that resulted in the alteration or suppression of scientific findings related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Scientists did not report these instances of political interference because they feared retaliation, did not know how to report issues or believed that administrators were already aware.
Rasmussen, a professor in the departments of pediatrics and epidemiology at the UF College of Medicine and UF College of Public Health and Health Professions, previously worked at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She served in multiple leadership roles during her 20-year tenure at the agency, including as editor-in-chief of CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a widely-cited scientific journal.
“One of the most difficult situations for me to hear about during the pandemic has been reports of political interference with the development of COVID-19 guidelines and demands to review and make changes to MMWR articles,” said Rasmussen in her testimony. “These reports threaten the credibility of CDC and MMWR, essential sources of information to guide us through the pandemic. Watching CDC, an institution that is highly revered around the world and to which I had dedicated my life’s work, lose the trust of so many Americans was painful. And to watch that lack of trust lead to more deaths from COVID-19 has truly been a tragedy.”
It is essential that safeguards be put in place to protect scientific integrity at these federal agencies so that Americans can trust their guidance, Rasmussen added.
“To maintain that trust, these agencies need to be free of political influence,” she said. “Our ability to impact the health of Americans during future public health threats depends on it.”