Intended for healthcare professionals


Political interference in public health science during covid-19

BMJ 2020; 371 doi: (Published 06 October 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;371:m3878

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Politics and public health in America—taking a stand for what is right

  1. Gregg Gonsalves, assistant professor of epidemiology1,
  2. Gavin Yamey, professor of global health and public policy2
  1. 1Public Health Modeling Unit and Department of Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases, Yale School of Public Health, New Haven, CT, USA
  2. 2Center for Policy Impact in Global Health, Duke Global Health Institute, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA
  1. Correspondence to: G Gonsalves gregg.gonsalves{at}

Populist leaders like Trump, Bolsonaro, Modi, and Johnson view scientists as their opponents

On 26 September, Donald Trump held a lengthy ceremony at the White House to announce his nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court seat left vacant by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Guests mingled inside and outside, few wore a mask, and there was little social distancing—ripe conditions for what became a superspreading event.1

Twenty eight attendees have so far tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, including the president, who was admitted to hospital and is still receiving treatment for covid-19 now that he is back at the White House.2 Just two weeks before, at an indoor rally that he held as a rebuke to covid-19 safety precautions, Trump pronounced the pandemic to be almost over, saying: “We’re making that round, beautiful, last turn.”3 But his magical thinking has led the US to the world’s worst outbreak—with a fifth of the world’s cases and deaths4—and now to the virus spreading like wildfire through the highest levels of government.

The virus reaching Trump is a grim yet inevitable conclusion to his longstanding dismissal of public health science. Trump refuses to wear a mask, mask wearing is ridiculed and scorned by many in his administration, and crowded meetings are often held inside the …

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