We Need a COVID Commission | Opinion

When an airplane crashes, the Federal Aviation Administration conducts a detailed and thorough investigation. The purpose is not to find a scapegoat, but to ensure the same problem never resurfaces again.

Our collective response to the COVID-19 pandemic constituted history's biggest public health mistake. We did not properly protect older high-risk Americans, while many ineffective COVID restrictions have generated long-term collateral public health damage that is now upon us. Both have yielded excess deaths. Public health crashed.

It is now imperative to form a commission to conduct a thorough and open-minded COVID inquiry. To help such a commission, we have produced an 80-page blueprint with essential questions that such a commission should ask. We wrote this document with six colleagues with expertise in infectious disease, epidemiology, immunology, health policy, and public health. We call ourselves the Norfolk Group.

Here is a sample of the questions from that report:

  • Limiting COVID Transmission in Nursing Homes: It was common for staff to work multiple jobs at different facilities during the same day or week. Were there any efforts from nursing care companies, state health departments, or the CDC to reduce staff rotation?
  • Natural Immunity: Why did the CDC routinely downplay infection-acquired immunity, despite robust scientific evidence demonstrating its importance?
  • School Closures: In July 2020, the New England Journal of Medicine published an article concerning "reopening primary schools during the pandemic" without mentioning data from Sweden, the only major western country that had kept schools open throughout the 2020 spring semester. Why?
  • Excess Deaths: The U.S. had around 170,000 excess non-COVID deaths through 2021, while countries with fewer restrictions, such as Sweden and Denmark, had negative excess deaths over the same period. Why did the U.S. focus almost exclusively on COVID, while Scandinavia took a more balanced approach that considered all aspects of public health?
  • Estimating Disease Spread: In early 2020, it was critical to quickly estimate disease prevalence. Why did the CDC fail to conduct seroprevalence surveys in representative communities?
Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Chief Medical
Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Chief Medical Advisor and Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, attends an event with First Lady Jill Biden to urge Americans to get vaccinated ahead of the holiday season, during a COVID-19 virtual event with AARP in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, DC, December 9, 2022. SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images
  • Therapeutics: As one of the few proven early treatments for COVID, should the federal government have invested more resources to increase the supply of monoclonal antibodies?
  • Vaccines: In April and May 2021, Michigan suffered a regional COVID spike while COVID was on the seasonal decline in most other states. Why did the federal government refuse to send additional vaccine doses and resources to Michigan during this regional emergency?
  • Vaccine Mandates: Why were mandates pursued without carveouts for those with immunity due to prior infection? Why were so many people fired, destroying careers and reducing health care capacity?
  • Testing and Contact Tracing: Why did federal and state governments spend large amounts of effort and money on futile testing and contact tracing activities?
  • Masks: Were there any discussions about the ethics and wisdom of imposing mask mandates based on weak studies, while ignoring higher-quality studies demonstrating that masks made little or no difference in the spread of COVID?

These are just a sample of the many important questions that a COVID Commission should ask. Legislators, potential commission members, public health officials, and the public can find many more at the NorfolkGroup.org website, where they can download the full report for no charge.

The purpose of a COVID Commission should not be to blame or to prosecute, nor to weaponize it as a political tool. Both Presidents Donald Trump Trump and Joe Biden officials have questions to answer. Both Republicans and Democrats advocated lockdown policies, while resistance came from both the Right and Left—for example, in the form of Republican governors in Florida and South Dakota and the social democratic government in Sweden. While few public health scientists dared to speak out against COVID restrictions promoted by Dr. Anthony Fauci, many of the scientists who did speak out are politically on the Left, including several members of our Norfolk Group. We must skip the politics and simply figure out what went wrong, so that it never happens again.

There is one question about the pandemic that we did not ask in the 80-page document, and which we hope we will never have to ask: "Why did the government not form a COVID Commission to evaluate our pandemic response?"

Martin Kulldorff is a professor of medicine at Harvard University (on leave). Jay Bhattacharya is a physician and professor of health policy at Stanford University School of Medicine. Both are founding fellows of the Academy for Science and Freedom, a Hillsdale initiative to restore integrity and trust in science and public health.

The views expressed in this article are the writers' own.