The FDA Commissioner’s Embarrassing Lecture on ‘Misinformation’

Published June 1, 2022

Claremont Institute

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Robert Califf claims to “have been telling Congress that misinformation is the leading cause of death.” 

Califf explains that:

If you think about the common chronic diseases we’re talking about good ol’ fashioned heart disease, diabetes, obesity. This is driven by day-to-day habits that people have. Driven largely by the information they’re ingesting and not driven by the information they should be getting about the measures that are affective. One that we have a lot of control over is we now have generic medicines for most of those that are pretty inexpensive and a lot of people aren’t taking them. We got to reach people with secondary prevention but also make sure we flood the airwaves and our personal interactions with positive, reliable, useful information.

Califf’s comments are ironic considering the FDA’s own history of promoting misinformation. The FDA has joined the debate on “gun violence,” and would like to classify it as a public health problem. The agency approved multiple drugs for Alzheimer’s Disease proven completely ineffective by clinical trials, resulting in a major scandal. And it was instrumental, along with the Centers for Disease Control, in promulgating contradictory disinformation about Covid-19 throughout the pandemic, sowing confusion and division.

If Califf genuinely encourages the use of generic medication and detests the spread of “misinformation,” how does he justify the agency’s negative position on Hydroxychloroquine and Ivermectin? When used appropriately, findings have shown bona fide, clinically significant benefits of both drugs in the off-label treatment of COVID-19. However, the FDA selectively ignored a mountain of positive data supporting the use of Hydroxychloroquine and Ivermectin and sat in silence while physicians lost their jobs and stood trial in front of over-reaching medical boards who deliberately ignored objective evidence in their own efforts to genuflect to the Biden White House.

In fact, the FDA’s Twitter and website still promotes its own misinformation on the effectiveness of Ivermectin as a treatment for Covid-19, despite a number of peer-reviewed publications proving otherwise. The FDA could receive a double mark for patronizingly reminding Americans that “you are not a horse, you are not a cow,” but at least it’s beginning to recognize some biological limitations on identity expression. Nevertheless, wouldn’t the FDA’s webpage against the known clinical benefits of these two inexpensive generic drugs be considered misinformation via omission? Will the FDA take its misleading website down? The answer is no because the FDA, led by a contentious commissioner approved by a slim 50-46-3 margin, has joined the partisan fray and now considers “misinformation” anything that doesn’t mirror the Biden White House’s narrative. 

On CNN, Califf doubled down on his claim that “misinformation” was the leading cause of death in America, after having to admit that he had zero evidence to support it. As he explains: 

Uh, I have to acknowledge there’s no way to quantify this. So I can’t say, you know, the numbers come out just like they would, uh, heart disease or cancer. But let’s look at it. You know, we’re in a country now which is seeing an erosion in our life expectancy, so that we’re now living on average five years shorter than the average of other high-income countries. Now, of course, this– these are all based on estimates, but this is quite disturbing. And as you correctly pointed out, let’s look at the causes of death. Uh, as you correctly said, heart disease, cancer, COVID, uh, much of this is common chronic disease that we know a lot about how to treat.

Despite opining on guns, Dr. Calliff refused to consider mitigating factors such as the economy, high unemployment, inflation, lack of discretionary income, or many other things which could also affect public health. Califf would rather focus on the real silent killer, misinformation:

What has concerned me for a long time before the pandemic is that we’re seeing this reduction in life expectancy from common diseases like heart disease. I’m a cardiologist by training. We know so much about what to do to prevent, uh, bad outcomes from heart disease, um, but somehow the messages, the, the reliable, truthful messages are not getting across, and it’s being washed out by a lot of misinformation which is leading people to make bad choices that are unfortunate for their health.

Meanwhile, Califf continues to promote the White House narrative that an indeterminate series of boosters is required to treat COVID-19, with a vaccine viewed by many Americans as ineffective and potentially dangerous, and the use of recently developed and poorly studied antiviral pills like Paxlovid:

And of course with COVID, the situation is we know that if you’re vaccinated and up-to-date with your vaccinations, um, you have a ninety percent reduction in the risk of death, and then, if you are unlucky enough to get infected, or unfortunate enough, another ninety percent reduction in death with the antivirals which are now available. So almost no one in this country should be dying from COVID, if we were up-to-date on our vaccinations and got appropriate anti-viral treatment.

Americans are required to listen to their leaders spout outrageous claims regarding inflation, unemployment, and illegal immigration while being lectured about the dangers of “misinformation.” America’s top FDA official uses his appointed pulpit to make sweeping claims about public health without a single iota of evidence, while ignoring information which could actually benefit Americans.

The soul of the FDA lies in its ability to use scientific evidence to make informed decisions on behalf of the public interest, not tout the party line. In Califf’s case, that simply means doing the best job he can to ensure public health by giving truthful, accurate, and non-partisan information and recommendations.

David Gortler, Pharm.D. FCCP is a Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center whose work focuses on FDA oversight and accountability. Dr. Gortler is a pharmacologist and pharmacist and a Yale-trained bench research scientist in molecular biology with a subspecialty in the field of vascular medicine. He was a professor of pharmacology and biotechnology at the Yale University School of Medicine, where he also served at Yale’s Center for Bioethics, and was an FDA Medical Officer who was later appointed by the White House to serve on the FDA’s Senior Executive Leadership Team as senior advisor to the FDA Commissioner.

Image: National Cancer Institute via UnSplash

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