On Monday, Kentucky senator Rand Paul sent a letter to CDC director Rochelle Walensky asking for more transparency regarding its contracting of Weber Shandwick, the same public relations firm that represents Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, to conduct research for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
Citing possible conflicts of interest, Paul requested that the CDC provide unredacted documentation of Weber Shandwick's work with the NCIRD.
"On September 28, 2020," Paul began, "CDC awarded a federal contract award to Weber Shandwick to conduct marketing consulting services for the [NCIRD]. NCIRD is responsible for providing management and support services to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), which issues recommendations to CDC on vaccines including the COVID-19 vaccine."
He went on to highlight the fact that as part of the up to $55.2 million deal, part of which was paid using COVID-19 emergency funds, the PR firm had provided "10 on-site health communications staffers, seven health comms specialists, two health research specialists and one social media specialist."
Their work included conducting "target audience research," "promoting vaccines and communicating the risks and recommended actions for outbreaks," as well as "generating story ideas, distributing articles and conducting outreach to news, media and entertainment organization."
"Weber embedded staff within CDC to promote vaccines and provide communications services related to COVID-19," Paul continued, "while simultaneously representing the interests of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, two pharmaceutical companies actively seeking federal approval of their respective COVID-19 vaccines."
He suggested that this "raises serious concerns about the independence of CDC and ACIP's vaccine recommendations," adding that Americans "deserve impartiality from the entities responsible for issuing recommendations on the use of COVID-19 vaccines and boosters."
In order to ensure the agency lived up to those expectations, Paul requested that they provide unredacted copies of the contract with Weber Shandwick, records relating to conflict of interest evaluations, the names of the people from the PR agency working for the NCIRD, as well as records of its work with ACIP.
"The American people have a right to a transparent and open government," he concluded. "I appreciate your attention to this critical matter."
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