CDC Used Same PR Firm As Pfizer, Moderna — Prompting Demand For Transparency

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) this week demanded the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention turn over documents related to the agency’s contract with a New York-based public relations firm that also represented Pfizer and Moderna.

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By Suzanne Burdick, Ph.D.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) this week demanded the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) turn over documents related to the agency’s contract with a New York-based public relations firm that also represented Pfizer and Moderna.

The demand followed revelations that the CDC contracted with Weber Shandwick to provide marketing services to the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD) — the division of the CDC responsible for providing management and support to the agency’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), which issues recommendations to the CDC on vaccines including the COVID-19 vaccine.

The CDC on Sept. 28, 2020, awarded a federal contract to Weber Shandwick to “conduct marketing consulting services” for the NCIRD, Paul said. The CDC twice extended the contract, as recently as August this year, Paul said.

According to USAspending, Weber’s contract with the CDC is worth up to $55.2 million — and is paid partially using COVID-19 emergency funds, Paul said.

In a letter to CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Paul wrote:

“According to reports, Weber’s work on behalf of NCIRD includes promoting vaccines and communicating the risks and recommended actions for outbreaks. Weber is responsible for providing NCIRD with ‘10 on-site health communications staffers, seven health comms specialists, two health research specialists and one social media specialist.’

“Weber’s strategic communications will include ‘generating story ideas, distributing articles and conducting outreach to news, media and entertainment organizations.’”

Paul demanded the following information Nov. 7 at 5 p.m.:

For any document the CDC does not produce, the agency should “include a justification and citation of the legal authority that authorizes the withholding of the document from Congress.”

“The American people have a right to a transparent and open government,” Paul added.

Weber ‘embedded’ staff within the CDC to promote shots, says Paul

Citing the work of investigative reporter Paul D. Thacker, Paul said Weber “embedded staff” within the CDC to “promote vaccines and provide communications services” related to COVID-19 — while “simultaneously representing the interest of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.”

The two pharmaceutical companies sought and gained U.S. government approval of their COVID-19 vaccines. In December 2020, the ACIP recommended the use of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for those ages 16 years and up and recommended the use of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine for those 18 and older.

Since then, the ACIP has recommended Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines for the majority of the U.S. population, including children and infants as young as 6 months old. It also recommended Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID-19 booster shots, including the new bivalent boosters.

“Weber’s simultaneous work for the NCIRD, Pfizer-BioNTech, and Moderna raises serious concerns about the independence of CDC and ACIP’s vaccine recommendations,” Paul said.

In 2020, Weber Shandwick also won an up to $50 million contract from the U.S. government to promote flu vaccines to the public.

Suzanne Burdick, Ph.D., is a reporter and researcher for The Defender based in Fairfield, Iowa. She holds a Ph.D. in Communication Studies from the University of Texas at Austin (2021), and a master's degree in communication and leadership from Gonzaga University (2015). Her scholarship has been published in Health Communication. She has taught at various academic institutions in the United States and is fluent in Spanish.

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