New England Journal of Medicine Urges Readers to Oust Trump Over Bungled Coronavirus Response


Trump stands on the Truman Balcony at the White House on Oct. 5, 2020 in Washington, DC after receiving treatments for COVID-19 at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via Getty Images

For the first time in more than two centuries of publication, the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) has taken a stand on a U.S. election.

In an editorial titled “Dying in a Leadership Vacuum” published Wednesday, the journal condemned the Trump administration for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Covid-19 has created a crisis throughout the world,” the editors wrote. “This crisis has produced a test of leadership. With no good options to combat a novel pathogen, countries were forced to make hard choices about how to respond. Here in the United States, our leaders have failed that test. They have taken a crisis and turned it into a tragedy.”

The editors pointed to the outsized U.S. caseload and death toll — the country still leads the world for both metrics. They compared the U.S. numbers with other countries that had greater vulnerabilities but much lower death tolls, such as China, where COVID-19 originated; Japan, which has a large elderly population; and Vietnam, which has fewer resources. They pointed out that the death rate in China was three per million, while in the U.S. it was more than 500 per million.

Further, they highlighted specific failures in pandemic response, such as an early delay in widespread testing and getting proper protective gear to frontline medical workers. They also railed against the politicization of public health.

“[I]n much of the country, people simply don’t wear masks, largely because our leaders have stated outright that masks are political tools rather than effective infection control measures,” they wrote.

Finally, they argued that the U.S. had the ability to respond well to the pandemic, both because of its manufacturing capabilities and its many scientific institutions and experts. But instead of listening to these experts, the editors said, the current administration sidelined them. It either undermined, ignored or politicized government institutions like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health that could have led an effective response.

“Our leaders have largely claimed immunity for their actions. But this election gives us the power to render judgment. Reasonable people will certainly disagree about the many political positions taken by candidates. But truth is neither liberal nor conservative. When it comes to the response to the largest public health crisis of our time, our current political leaders have demonstrated that they are dangerously incompetent. We should not abet them and enable the deaths of thousands more Americans by allowing them to keep their jobs,” the editorial concluded.

While the editorial does not mention President Donald Trump or his election rival former Vice President Joe Biden by name, it is a clear call to oust the president at the polls in November.

“The fact that @NEJM has taken a side in this Presidential election is telling as to how critical of a moment we are in,” Joseph Sakran, a trauma surgeon and director of emergency general surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, tweeted Wednesday, as The Washington Post reported.

This is only the fifth time in the journal’s 208-year history that all of its editors have signed an editorial. The previous four included an obituary for former editor in chief Arnold S. Relman and statements in support of contraception access, in support of Roe v. Wade and a comment on a government draft policy on informed consent requirements for standard-of-care research. While three of these articles did weigh in on specific policies, the editorial board has never before taken a position on an election or candidate.

“It should be clear that we are not a political organization,” NEJM editor in chief Dr. Eric Rubin told The New York Times. “But pretty much every week in our editorial meeting there would be some new outrage. How can you not speak out at a time like this?”

The NEJM isn’t the first scientific publication to break with precedent ahead of the 2020 election.

On Sep.15, Scientific American backed a presidential candidate for the first time in its 175-year history when it endorsed Biden.

“The evidence and the science show that Donald Trump has badly damaged the U.S. and its people — because he rejects evidence and science,” the editors wrote.

In addition to his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the editors also pointed to Trump’s rollback of environmental health measures designed to protect people from air pollution and his refusal to act on the climate crisis.

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