The Republican-led House panel investigating the COVID-19 pandemic kicked off its first public event Tuesday, with multiple GOP lawmakers laying blame for Americans losing trust in health officials directly at the feet of those who promoted lockdowns and vaccine mandates.
The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic held a roundtable on "Preparing for the Future by Learning From the Past," grilling medical experts on what broad public health restrictions during the pandemic did to Americans of all ages.
Several lawmakers directed their frustrations at Democrats’ invited witness, American Public Health Association Executive Director Georges Benjamin.
"What we have now is a complete lack of trust and confidence in the public health sector…and that's due to a coordinated spread of misinformation and disinformation that was for political gain, for the most part — in a lot of part — by public health officials like yourself," Texas GOP Rep. Ronny Jackson said during one of the tenser moments in the hours-long event.
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Jackson told Benjamin that he was a "strange witness" for Democrats to call upon considering the growing doubt Americans feel about the advice of public health experts.
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Critics of COVID-19 health measures recently seized on a new report published in The Lancet medical journal this month that indicates immunity from a coronavirus infection could be just as strong as getting a double-vaccination – which had been required across most facets of public life for much of the pandemic since the vaccines’ production.
Georgia Republican Rep. Rich McCormick compared COVID vaccine aversion during the height of the pandemic to doctors in the 19th century largely doubting the fact that washing their hands held health benefits for themselves and their patients.
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"We do more harm than good by — to treat people with booster shots right now, if you have immunity," McCormick said.
On Benjamin’s admission that he himself had not treated a patient since the 1990s, the Georgia Republican fumed, "One of the things that disturbed me greatly about this pandemic is that people who are ‘experts’ who have never seen a patient for COVID, were telling physicians like myself — who saw thousands of patients — that I could not speak, and that I should be censored."
Firebrand Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene expressed outrage at her own censorship on Twitter over accusations of spreading COVID misinformation and claimed that widespread school shutdowns to slow the virus only served to harm children.
Greene said "children truly suffered en masse" during the closures and "natural immunity is something that should have been trusted, but for some reason, all common sense, and all knowledge went out the window."
Three of the event’s witnesses — doctors Jay Bhattacharya, Martin Kulldorf, and Marty Makary — are part of a small group of medical experts known as the Norfolk Group. The collective released a blueprint last week with recommendations for a bipartisan panel to investigate the "collateral damage" done by the government’s response to COVID-19.
The blueprint said that school closures "generated enormous societal damage without significantly lowering COVID-19 mortality, while failing to protect high-risk Americans."
Rep. Raul Ruiz, himself a medical doctor and the top Democrat on the subcommittee, tore into the witnesses’ legitimacy in his opening statement.
"I am troubled that… participants on today’s panel have a well-documented history of downplaying the gravity of the COVID-19 pandemic and defying the overwhelming consensus of America’s scientific, research, and public health communities — including by advocating for a reckless herd immunity strategy for a deadly novel virus we knew little about and drawing into question vaccine policies that contributed to the prevention of more than three million fatalities," Ruiz said.
"To successfully carry out the charge of this Select Subcommittee, our work must lead with facts and follow the science. Anything less would be a misguided use of our time and taxpayer dollars and a betrayal of the interests of the American people."
Multiple studies have been done on the effectiveness of lockdowns since the pandemic's peak.