America First by Neglecting the World?

As you may or may not have heard, Brenda Fitzgerald, the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), resigned from her post last week. Some point to her investment in tobacco and pharmaceutical companies as the reason why she left. Others don’t care why she left, as long as Anne Schuchat is Acting Director and not someone from the current Administration, and Administration that has promised to cut funding to CDC projects overseas because “America First” and other such nationalist nonsense.

Speaking of nonsense, this opinion piece by Betsy McCaughey really scared the crap out of me. It scared the crap out of me because there are a lot of people (millions, probably) who think like her. Or, rather, who don’t think things through, like she seems to have done. Not only is she displaying the thinking of a nationalist and isolationist, she doesn’t seem to think that diseases overseas can come over and kill us.

She starts off with this:

“Under President Barrack Obama, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent money and staff to distant parts of the globe while neglecting life-threatening health crises under our noses. Dr. Thomas Frieden, who headed the CDC then, is joining a chorus of globalists bashing President Donald Trump’s decision to end funding for the CDC’s overseas projects in dozens of countries. Frieden charges the cuts will “endanger lives in our country.” Sounds scary, but the facts prove otherwise. Trump will spend the money here instead, where it’s urgently needed. As Trump searches for a new CDC director, it’s time to put America first — something the agency has neglected.”

Not to be too picky, but President Obama spells his first name “Barack,” with one R. Frankly, I’m surprised she didn’t throw in “Hussein” for good measure.

Speaking of dog whistles, she does manage to throw in the word “globalist,” which scares a lot of people into thinking that a “globalist” is one of those people who want to take over the world, or who want to give up American sovereignty. In the real world, a globalist is someone who takes into account everything that is going on in the world before making a decision (usually an economic one). This isn’t a bad thing. We’re not living in a world where we’re separated from trouble by two big oceans. You can get on a plane in Madagascar right now and arrive in the US in a matter of hours, bringing Plague with you. So, when the Director of CDC, someone with ample intelligence from overseas sources on what is going on and what is a threat to us tells us that we should worry about “over there,” I’d listen.

It’s like saying that we need to bring all of our troops back from Korea and the Middle East — both potential flashpoints for the next world war — because we need some cops here in Baltimore. You just don’t make decisions like that.

To support her assertion, Ms. McCaughey continues:

“On its core mission — protecting American health — the CDC is an abject failure. It dithered while opioid overdose deaths topped 42,000 and obesity deaths soared to 186,000, according to the National Academy of Sciences. Obesity and opioid overdosing are largely to blame for the sudden drop in American life expectancy.

Year after year, the CDC also pays lip service to curbing hospital infections, but the common infection C. diff now kills 29,000 Americans each year. No progress there.”

No, there has been some progress in the opioid epidemic. There are naloxone and Good Samaritan laws in almost every state now, reducing the number of deaths from opioids. Philadelphia is about to open a safe injection site, which evidence in Canada and Europe has shown to also reduce deaths, increase people looking for rehab services, and also prevent outbreaks of disease (like the one that then-Governor Pence allowed to happen on his watch in Indiana).

There has also been progress in hospital-acquired infections, but, admittedly, that progress is slow. It’s slow because our healthcare system sucks. There are thousands of healthcare organizations that all operate any which way they see fit, and any attempt at regulating them… Well, you know how Republicans feel about regulation.

Ms. McCaughey keeps on keeping on:

“Add flu deaths to the toll from the CDC’s subpar performance. Emergency rooms are overwhelmed during the current outbreak, and 53 children have died. The vaccine is less effective than in some past years, but the bigger problem is how few Americans get vaccinated — only 46 percent. Dr. Peter Hotez of Baylor College of Medicine points to a “poor level of vaccine advocacy” from the federal government. “This could haunt us for the current season,” he adds. Nearly all the children who died never got the vaccine. A new study shows getting it can prevent 65 percent of child flu deaths.”

A couple of things here. First, CDC doesn’t make the influenza vaccine. Epidemiologists from CDC and other organizations around the world (globalist much, Ren?) work together to recommend the best strains to put into the vaccine. Pharmaceutical companies make the vaccines, because capitalism. Unfortunately, they have outdated technology when it comes to the influenza vaccine, so they need a lot of lead time before vaccines against influenza get manufactured. By the time it does, the circulating influenza virus may have already changed.

Second of all, vaccine advocacy is a function of the local and state governments and their health departments. While CDC posts a lot of information about the vaccine and its benefits, it’s really up to the locals to get the word out. After all, they’re the ones giving out the vaccine, not the federal government. (I’m willing to bet Ms. McCaughey would claim that there’s something authoritarian about the federal government carrying out a vaccine program.)

But here’s where Ms. McCaughey really starts to sound unhinged:

“While the CDC neglected its mission here, Obama committed billions to build labs and train health personnel in Africa during the Ebola scare. Billions for a disease that killed only one person in the U.S., and even that person got infected elsewhere.

Obama also allocated $582 million for the CDC’s Global Health Security Agenda serving 49 countries. That fund is running out, and Trump refuses to renew it. Alleluia.”

Ms. McCaughey must have not heard that over 11,000 people died in the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, and that the reason why there was only one death in the US was precisely because men and women from CDC and other organizations risked their goddamned lives to go over there and fight Ebola before it traveled to the rest of the world. Who the hell does this person think they are to whitewash the epidemic like that? An uninformed reader would probably think that the epidemic was no big deal if all they had was McCaughey’s words… And to write “Alleluia” (God be praised) that we will not be able to go help stop diseases outside of the US before they come here?

To hell with her. (I’m a little angry, in case you can’t tell.)

I won’t give you the rest of McCaughey’s drivel because it’s just nationalist propaganda. In her mind, it seems, President Barrack “With Two Rs Because At Least She Didn’t Write Hussein” Obama didn’t do anything to help Americans’ health. She must have missed that part where Obama wanted universal healthcare, with plenty of benchmarks and regulations on hospitals to incentivize them to reduce hospital-acquired infections and require us to go see our healthcare providers (for free!) and get our vaccines and other preventative care.

Oh, no, none of that happened in her world. In her world, like in Trump’s, there is death and destruction everywhere, but Trump will make it right? If we do pull back from global initiatives, it will only be a matter of time before something lands here because we missed it over there.

Ms. McCaughey, this is not a zero-sum game. For us to have better healthcare — which the Affordable Care Act tried to bring us but Trump is determined to destroy — we don’t need to take aid away from anyone. My God, no one comes close in how much we spend on the military. Do you think that maybe, just maybe, we can get some of that cash moved to both fight diseases here at home and abroad?

And if you’re really going to cry because “vaccination rates are abysmal,” then you need to look at Trump’s words about vaccines. He became the anti-vaccine groups’ darling after claiming that vaccines cause autism, and saying that the flu vaccine injects “bad stuff” into you. So, while you go protest the anti-vaccine stance of President Trump, the rest of us in the real world, working for public health, will try to make things work with the breadcrumbs the Trump Administration throws at us while laughing in our face.

2 Comments on “America First by Neglecting the World?”

  1. Ugh.

    As an Army brat spending almost half of my youth outside of the USA, I am amazed she does not realize Americans are actually assigned as federal employees to those countries.

    So Trump wants to have a military parade to show American strength, yet this yahoo is forgetting those Americans can be vulnerable to those diseases when they are at work… overseas. Should someone remember what the guy did that this is named after him: Walter Reed Army Institute of Research? Or why the hospital in Panama (where I was born) is named William Gorgas Hospital (don’t be fooled by the name, the dude was not in anyway Panamanian, Cuban or Colombian). That Cuban researcher was Dr. Finley (never assume heritage by surname):

    Oh, and let us not forget those big things you see in the sky, occasionally putting streaks of water vapor in their wake: they are full of people, some that do carry disease. Apparently West Nile Virus was brought over by just one airplane landing in New York. This is a story recounted by the great storyteller Dickson Despommier on the very first podcast episode of TWiV (This Week in Virology).


    • Oh, don’t get me started on what the many different USAMRUs (US Army Meridcal Research Units) are doing around the world. I know from colleagues that they have stopped some crazy stuff from getting here. But, yeah, I’m sure Ebola and friends know all about our immigration laws.


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