Letter to Health and Human Services Secretary

by Aaron Kheriaty, MD Mar 15, 2022

Along with fellow scholars at the Ethics and Public Policy Center I sent a letter today to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, urging him to immediately revoke his declaration that a Covid-19 public health emergency exists. The current emergency declaration, which was renewed for the 8th time on January 16, is set to expire next month.

The letter opens:

On January 16, 2022, you declared, for the ninth time since January 2020, a public health emergency due to the presence of Covid-19 in America.1 Enough is enough. It has been more than two years since Covid came to our shores and we have adapted to and addressed this threat. The overwhelming majority of Americans have been vaccinated or have natural immunity, and everyone has free access to potentially life-saving and disease-mitigating measures. Nevertheless, government and private actors continue to impose vaccination mandates, mask mandates, and other restrictions on Americans’ daily lives in reliance on your continued emergency declarations. We therefore ask that you immediately revoke your declaration because it is causing real and present harm and because there is no longer a public health emergency to address.

We go on in the letter to summarize a substantial body of evidence that supports ending the emergency declaration, including that 81.5% of Americans have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine and that tens of millions more Americans have acquired natural immunity through infection. Because of the widespread availability of vaccines, therapeutics, masks, and testing to those who wish to further protect themselves, the scholars argue, “there is simply insufficient reason to mandate school closures, lockdowns, masking, or vaccination.”

One helpful section of the letter places current covid death counts in a broader context to help us interpret the current level of covid risks and make sense out of the raw epidemiological numbers:

Currently, cases, hospitalizations, and deaths from Covid-19 are falling throughout the United States. The number of intensive care unit (ICU) beds in use, and thus the number of stressed ICUs, has also decreased dramatically over the last month in nearly every state. This is not to dismiss the daily number of deaths, which is currently around 1,000. However, if one looks at the death rates of Covid-19 per 100,000 people, what was once nearly 300 has fallen to 0.39 per 100,000 people. There are two main explanations for this. One is that Covid is experiencing a seasonal dip as winter recedes and people congregate less indoors, and the other is that Covid is just having a hard time finding more vulnerable people to infect.

To put this in context, the annual death rate of influenza per 100,000 people is 1.8,15 the annual death rate from traffic accidents per 100,000 people is 11,16 and the annual death rate from drowning per 100,000 people is 1.23. Just as individuals choose how to approach risk in certain common scenarios, such as choosing to get in a car or go swimming, one can choose to mitigate one’s risk of death from Covid-19 to a level at or below that of other daily encounters.

The letter also recounts the “staggeringly high costs” of interventions such as school closures, lockdowns, mask mandates, and vaccine mandates, and concludes that “the costs of these mandates clearly outweigh their benefits, and it is time for them to end.”

Signers of the letter include some of my valued colleagues at EPPC who have been doing excellent work on public health policies:

  • Ryan T. Anderson, Ph.D.
    EPPC President
  • Aaron Kheriaty, M.D.
    EPPC Fellow and Director of EPPC’s Bioethics and American Democracy program
  • Aaron Rothstein, M.D.
    EPPC Fellow, Bioethics and American Democracy program
  • Roger Severino, J.D.
    EPPC Senior Fellow and Director of EPPC’s HHS Accountability Project
  • Rachel N. Morrison, J.D.
    Fellow, EPPC’s HHS Accountability Project

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