CDC official who made early warning about coronavirus silenced by Trump, documentary reveals

Louise Hall
·3-min read
 National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases Director Nancy Messonnier speaks during a press conference today at the Department of Health and Human Services (Getty Images)
National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases Director Nancy Messonnier speaks during a press conference today at the Department of Health and Human Services (Getty Images)

A new documentary has revealed shocking details of why a Centres for Disease Control and Prevention disappeared from public view at the outbreak of the pandemic in the US.

Nancy Messonnier, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC, provided regular briefings at the beginning of the pandemic on the progression of the disease.

Less than two weeks after Dr Messonnier told Americans that the effects of the pandemic were inevitable and that many Americans would undoubtedly face severe illness, the CDC briefings ceased, Business Insider reported.

"It's not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness,” she said during a briefing on 26 February.

The speech marked a tipping point in the agency’s messaging and sent the stock market plummeting.

A new documentary released on Tuesday: Totally Under Control, produced by Jigsaw Productions and directed by Alex Gibney, reports that the CDC’s briefings were halted and Dr Messonnier was shifted from the public eye following her harsh warning.

While there were very few confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the US in February, Dr Messonnier’s messaging was said to be the first to "prepare the psyche of Americans for what we, the scientists, knew was coming,” Rick Bright, the former director of the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority reportedly said in the documentary.

Experts interviewed in the film say that Dr Messonnier was quietly forced from the public eye for moving away from the White House's preferred calm messaging on the pandemic without clearing it with the president, according to Business Insider.

Experts were reportedly preparing to tell the president that the rhetoric surrounding the virus needed to change and become more aggressive, Michael Shear, a New York Times White House correspondent, says in the film according to the outlet.

"Nancy thought the green light had been given for that new message to be delivered before briefing the president," Mr Shear reportedly said.

“So at her next conference call for reporters, she went to town."

Upon the president’s discovery of the briefing, he was reportedly furious and threatened to fire Dr Messonnier according to The Wall Street Journal.

"By the time Trump lands, the whole thing had spun out of control, and he was livid. He calls Alex Azar, wakes him up screaming, 'What had happened ... did you know Nancy Messonnier had scared the s*** out of people?'" Mr Shear said.

Dr Messonnier was not fired but was sidelined in favour of the newly set up coronavirus taskforce led by Mike Pence, the documentary reports.

Following the incident, Dr Messonnier only spoke at four more press briefings until her last appearance on 9 March., according to Business Insider. The physician has not tweeted since 30 March.

"Nancy Messonnier told it like it is," Dr Thomas Frieden, a former director of the CDC, told The New York Times in March. "And she was 100 per cent right, and they silenced the messenger."

The novel coronavirus has infected 8.32 million Americans and led to the death of over 221,000 since the outbreak began.

Read more

Threat of tier 3 Covid status put on hold for northeast and Teesside

Which areas could be next into strictest tier 3 lockdown?

What time is the Trump-Biden presidential debate tonight?

What time is the Trump-Biden presidential debate tonight?