Republican Sen. Rand Paul is demanding answers from CDC director Rochelle Walensky to disclose how the agency contracted Weber Shadwick, the PR company that represents vaccine companies Pfizer and Moderna, to carry out research for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD).
In a letter to the CDC, Paul called on the CDC to release non-redacted documents detailing its work with the PR firm. His concerns revolve around the agency’s independence in providing vaccine recommendations to the public, suggesting that the PR firm’s direct association with pharmaceutical companies could represent a conflict of interest.
His letter reads:
I write concerning recent reporting that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) contracted with the same public relations firm that represents Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
This revelation raises serious questions about potential conflicts of interest related to CDC’s COVID-19 vaccine recommendations.
On September 28, 2020, 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 noted that the company “embedded” around “10 on-site health communications staffers, seven health comms specialists, two health research specialists and one social media specialist” to work with the agency in a deal that cost $55.2 million. The agreement was partially paid for with COVID emergency funds.
According to Paul, the “target audience research” performed by the PR firm included “promoting vaccines and communicating the risks and recommended actions for outbreak,” 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 while simultaneously representing the interests of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, two pharmaceutical companies actively seeking federal approval of their respective COVID-19 vaccines,” added the senator.
Americans, said the senator, “deserve impartiality from the entities responsible for issuing recommendations on the use of COVID-19 vaccines and boosters.”