(The Center Square) – Ahead of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on vaccine mandates expected as early as this week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control is under increased scrutiny after recent comments about COVID-19 deaths.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky fell into controversy after a clip of her appearance on Good Morning America Friday went viral.
“I want to ask you about the encouraging headlines we're talking about this morning, a new study talking about just how well vaccines are working to prevent severe illness,” co-host Cecilia Vega said on Good Morning America. “Given that, is it time to rethink how we're living with this virus if it is potentially here to stay?”
Walensky responded, saying “the overwhelming number of deaths, over 75%, occurred in people who had at least four comorbidities,” adding that, “Really these are people who were unwell to begin with.”
The clip went viral in part because many interpreted the comments to mean that 75% of all COVID deaths were among those with several comorbidities. Later, though, a CDC spokesperson clarified to Fox News that Walensky was referring to deaths among those who had been vaccinated.
Those comments come after another controversial media appearance from Walensky, where she said that many of the reported COVID-19 hospitalizations are not driven by severe COVID cases, but by other conditions.
“What we are seeing with the Omicron variant is that it tends to be milder person by person, but given how large the numbers are that we’re seeing more and more cases come into the hospital,” Walensky said on Fox News Sunday. “In some hospitals that we've talked to, up to 40% of the patients who are coming in with COVID-19 are coming in not because they’re sick with COVID, but because they’re coming in with something else and have had to, COVID or the Omicron variant detected.”
Comments like these have cast doubt on the severity of the current COVID surge even as the Supreme Court considers legal challenges to Biden’s sweeping private sector mandates on that very issue.
Walensky also faced criticism over her remarks from some who said she was callous to those with comorbidities. She responded to that on Twitter.
"We must protect people with comorbidities from severe #COVID19. I went into medicine – HIV specifically – and public health to protect our most at-risk," Walensky wrote on Twitter. "CDC is taking steps to protect those at highest risk, incl. those w/chronic health conditions, disabilities, & older adults."
Walensky sparked debate once again during an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, where she said, “What [vaccines] can't do anymore is prevent transmission."
Critics of Biden’s vaccine mandate pointed to these comments, arguing they undermine the reasoning for forcing Americans to get vaccinated.
“Did Walensky just kill the vaccine mandates?” Tom Fitton, head of Judicial Watch, wrote on Twitter in response to Walensky’s comments.