The Food and Drug Administration is blaming the messaging rather than the messenger in the aftermath of its blood plasma treatment for COVID-19 PR crisis.
The PR bloodletting at the FDA continued on Sept. 2 as external affairs chief John “Wolf” Wagner is out in the aftermath of Commissioner Stephen Hahn’s misstatements about the benefits of blood plasma treatment for COVID-19.
Emily Miller, chief spokesperson for the FDA during an 11-day run, was the first to be shown the door, exiting on Aug. 28.
Both Wagner and Miller were political appointees by Trump and may not have been qualified for the posts. Wagner was a former spokesperson for the Pentagon, Dept of Veterans Affairs and consultant for the 2016 Republican National Convention. Miller was a PR staffer on Ted Cruz's re-election campaign and a journalist at the conservative One America News.
But it was Hahn who oversold the wonders of blood plasma, which Trump touted as "a very historic breakthrough" when the announcement was made Aug. 23, just ahead of the beginning of the Republican convention.
Scientists blame Hahn—not the PR team—for the mess, which undermined trust in the FDA at a critical juncture in the battle against COVID-19, which has killed 184K Americans.
A reputationally-challenged FDA will be hard pressed to convince Americans that the COVID-19 vaccines currently under development will be safe and effective treatments.
Hahn needs to heed the advice of Medscape, a site for doctors and health professionals, editor-in-chief Dr. Eric Topol and either tell the truth or resign.
In his Aug. 31 letter to Hahn posted on WebMD-owned Medscape, Topol expressed concern about Hahn’s leadership and statements that triggered the crisis in confidence.
The professor of genomics at the Scripps Research Center faulted Hahn for caving into the fantasies of Trump. He wrote:
“Immediately after President Trump widely and aggressively promoted hydroxychloroquine as a 'miracle drug,' on March 30, 2020, you granted an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for this drug without any sufficient or meaningful supportive evidence. Proof of that was borne out on June 15, 2020 when you revoked that EUA, acknowledging lack of efficacy and 'ongoing serious cardiac adverse events and other potential serious side effects.'"
Topol went on to call Hahn’s blood plasma statement “incorrect and a blatant misrepresentation of the data.”
He reminded Hahn that the mission of the FDA is “helping the public get the accurate, science-based information they need to use medical products and foods to maintain and improve their health."
Topol criticized the Commissioner for serially demonstrating “a willingness to deviate from this bedrock premise.”
It's your move, Stephen.