One of the world’s oldest and best-known medical journals on Friday slammed President Donald Trump’s “inconsistent and incoherent national response” to the novel coronavirus pandemic and accused the administration of relegating the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to a “nominal” role.
The unsigned editorial from the Lancet concluded that Trump should be replaced. “Americans must put a president in the White House come January, 2021, who will understand that public health should not be guided by partisan politics,” said the journal, which was founded in Britain in 1823.
The strongly worded critique highlights mounting frustration with the administration’s response among some of the world’s top medical researchers. Medical journals sometimes run signed editorials that take political stances, but rarely do publications with the Lancet’s influence use the full weight of their editorial boards to call for a president to be voted out of office.
“It’s not common for a journal to do that — but the scientific community is getting increasingly concerned with the dangerous politicization of science during this pandemic crisis,” said Benjamin Corb, public affairs director for the nonprofit American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. “We watch as political leaders tout unproven medics advice, and public health and science experts are vilified as partisans — all while people continue to get sick and die.”
The Lancet published the editorial as the death toll in the United States surpassed 85,000 and many states moved to reopen businesses and ease coronavirus restrictions that experts say are necessary to contain the virus.
The journal said that while infection and death rates have declined in hard-hit states such as New York and New Jersey after two months of virus restrictions, new outbreaks in Minnesota and Iowa have raised questions about the efficacy of the Trump administration’s response.
The authors accused the administration of undermining some of the CDC’s top officials, saying the agency “has seen its role minimised and become an ineffective and nominal adviser.” They said the agency, which is supposed to be the primary contact for health authorities during crises, had been hamstrung by years of budget cuts that have made it harder to combat infectious diseases. The editorial also alleged the administration left an “intelligence vacuum” in China when it pulled the last CDC officer from the country in July.
The Lancet took the CDC to task, too, criticizing its botched rollout of diagnostic testing in the critical early weeks when the virus began to spread in the United States. The country remains ill-equipped to provide basic surveillance or laboratory testing to combat the disease, the journal said.
“There is no doubt that the CDC has made mistakes, especially on testing in the early stages of the pandemic,” the editorial said. “But punishing the agency by marginalising and hobbling it is not the solution.”
“The Administration is obsessed with magic bullets — vaccines, new medicines, or a hope that the virus will simply disappear,” it continued. “But only a steadfast reliance on basic public health principles, like test, trace, and isolate, will see the emergency brought to an end, and this requires an effective national public health agency.”
A White House spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday morning.
The Lancet editorial board has criticized the actions of government officials before, although rarely, if ever, has it waded into electoral politics. During the Obama administration, a 2015 editorial from the publication demanded an independent investigation into a U.S. military airstrike on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in northern Afghanistan that killed 42 people. The Lancet called the attack a violation of the Geneva Conventions and dismissed then-President Barack Obama’s apology for the bombing.
Lancet editor Richard Horton has decried the British government’s response to the pandemic in editorials and public statements published under his name. In a tweet earlier this week, he said Prime Minister Boris Johnson had “dropped the ball” in containing the virus.