Meet Ron DeSantis’ new “Committee on Public Health Integrity” – Mother Jones

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Earlier this week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has subpoenaed a grand jury to investigate “wrongdoing” by pharmaceutical companies and state officials who are promoting Covid-19 vaccines. DeSantis detailed his plans for the grand jury during a raucous press conference — the kind that has become a trademark of his tenure as governor. During the conference, he also announced that Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo will lead a study to “evaluate sudden death in otherwise healthy individuals who received a Covid-19 vaccine.”

While much of the media coverage so far has focused on DeSantis’ dreams of a grand jury, another of his new projects has gotten less attention: The governor also said he has convened a group called the Public Health Integrity Committee, a group of seven scientists and doctors , which, according to a news release, “will be overseen by the Surgeon General to evaluate federal public health recommendations and guidelines to ensure that Florida’s public health policies are aligned with Florida’s communities and priorities.”

Readers who follow pandemic contrarians will not be surprised by the cast of characters DeSantis has assembled. Several are linked to Barrington’s Grand Declaration of 2020, a project by the deep-pocketed libertarian think tank the American Institute for Economic Research, which argues for lifting nearly all coronavirus restrictions before vaccines or effective treatments are available. Although the proposal received widespread criticism, Barrington’s Grand Declaration caught the attention of the Trump administration — the authors met with the president’s top Covid advisers in 2020.

In addition, nearly all of DeSantis’ committee members have worked for or contributed to the Brownstone Institute, a think tank founded in 2021 to oppose pandemic restrictions. Brownstone encouraged anti-vax rallies and endorsed the use of the discredited drugs ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid. Most of the new committee members have specific experience in Florida, having participated in the widely publicized DeSantis roundtable in October in which the governor and Ladapo issued a recommendation against vaccinating healthy children against Covid-19. DeSantis promises that this star-studded group will “offer a critical evaluation” of public health policies and recommendations. “We know there’s a lot of broken faith in public health,” DeSantis said, “and I think it’s important to have people that people can really count on.”

So who are these people? Here is a brief overview of their bios:

Jay Bhattacharya is an economist and professor of health policy at Stanford and one of the original authors of Barrington’s Great Declaration. Bhattacharya – who has called pandemic lockdowns “the biggest public health mistake we’ve ever made” – has often criticized Covid-19 safety measures to his 328,000 Twitter followers. Earlier this month, Twitter CEO Elon Musk invited Bhattacharya to Twitter headquarters to learn about the “blacklist” he was allegedly placed on before Musk took over. Bhattacharya became an ardent advocate of DeSantis’ Covid-19 policies, testifying in defense of the governor’s ban on school mask mandates in August 2021 and participating in the governor’s roundtable in October of that year. He also serves as an Academy Fellow for Science and Freedom at right-wing Hillsdale College and as a senior scholar at the Brownstone Institute.

Martin Kulldorff, a Swedish biostatistician formerly of Harvard University, was another co-author of Barrington’s Grand Declaration. Since then, he has distinguished himself as an outspoken critic of pandemic safety measures, including contact tracing, vaccine and mask mandates and school programs that test asymptomatic students for the virus. Last winter, he supported truck convoys opposing vaccine mandates. Like Bhattacharya, Kulldorff participated in the DeSantis Roundtable in October and is a fellow at the Academy for Science and Freedom. The Brownstone Institute is also on his resume, where he served as senior scientific director. In one of his calls to punish proponents of pandemic safety measures, he tweeted an article called “Who will be held accountable for this devastation?” by his Brownstone colleague Jeffrey Tucker, which was accompanied by an image of a guillotine .

Tracy Beth Hogue, another participant in the October roundtable is an orthopedist and epidemiologist who currently works as a researcher at the Florida Department of Health. The author of several studies that found fault with masking and vaccination policies, she is a member of Urgency of Normal, a group of doctors who opposed masking requirements in schools. She is also a plaintiff in a lawsuit against California Governor Gavin Newsom, the state attorney general and the Medical Board of California over a new law that prohibits doctors from spreading medical misinformation. Høeg and the other plaintiffs claim that their First Amendment rights were violated.

Christine Stabel Benn, a Danish vaccine researcher at the University of Southern Denmark, focuses on the “non-specific effects” of immunizations — basically when vaccines have a health effect other than intended. Some of her research is legitimately important. Before the pandemic, she published studies of additional health benefits for children in Guinea-Bissau who received vaccines against tuberculosis, smallpox, and polio, such as Mother Jones reported in 2019. In April, she authored a widely circulated study published as a non-peer-reviewed advance version in the journal The lancet, finding that while non-mRNA Covid vaccines were associated with an overall reduction in mortality (even from causes unrelated to Covid), mRNA vaccines did not offer the same benefits. Based on this research, Ben said Political fact that she thinks it is too simplistic to claim that mRNA vaccines reduce mortality. Political fact countered this argument by pointing out that people take the vaccines to prevent death specifically from Covid-19, not from other causes. vocal supporter of Barrington’s Grand Declaration, her work is also featured in publications on the Brownstone Institute website.

Brett Weinstein is a former professor of biology at Evergreen State University. He distinguished himself during the pandemic with his full support for ivermectin. In an interview with Tucker Carlson, he Named it’s “near perfect Covid prevention” and touts it as an alternative to vaccines. Last year on Joe Rogan’s podcast, Weinstein concluded that ivermectin was “good enough to end the pandemic whenever you want” if it weren’t for greedy Big Pharma and its vaccines, which he said he didn’t take. He spoke at several Defeat the Mandates rallies earlier in 2022, and in October participated in the October DeSantis Roundtable. Weinstein resigned from his position at Evergreen in 2017 after suing the college for $3.85 million over the university’s “Day of Absence,” when white students were asked to discuss racism off campus for a day. Weinstein, who accused the administration of refusing to “protect employees from repeated provocative and caustic racially-based verbal and written hostility and threats of physical violence,” eventually reached a $500,000 settlement with the college.

Joseph Fryman, another veteran of the October roundtable, is a Louisiana-based emergency medicine physician who argues that Covid-19 vaccines are more dangerous than public health officials say. In September, he published a study in the journal Vaccine finding that “Pfizer and Moderna mRNA Covid-19 vaccines are associated with an increased risk of serious adverse events.” Critics have pointed out several problems with his work, chief among them that he cites data from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), which is not verified—anyone can make an entry in it without providing any evidence that a vaccine is caused the reported health effect. He has become an outspoken critic of fact-checking and disinformation policies on social media platforms. “Fact-checkers have become government-sanctioned thought police that serve and protect the public from dissenting views, wielding the misinformation label as their weapon and censoring their punitive tool, colloquially known as Twitter Prison,” he tweeted in November. In April, Fryman posted his 5,000-word plea for a religious exemption from the vaccine mandate at a hospital where he works on the Brownstone Institute’s website.

Stephen Templeton is an associate professor of microbiology and immunology at the Indiana University School of Medicine. He is also on the upcoming book Fear of a germ planet: how a germophobic safety culture is making us less safe, which he described in a Stubstack post last year as “a handbook for post-pandemic germophobia therapy.” The book will be published by — you guessed it! — The Brownstone Institute.

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