Miller-Meeks misinforms about COVID-19, again

U.S. Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks has built her political brand by highlighting her expertise as a doctor and former director of the Iowa Department of Public Health. Her official communications and campaign advertising routinely play up her medical background.

So it's disheartening to see Miller-Meeks join the ranks of Republican politicians who spread falsehoods about COVID-19.

She just did it again in Davenport.

Sarah Watson of the Quad-City Times covered Miller-Meeks' October 21 appearance at the Scott County GOP headquarters. As a member of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, Miller-Meeks called for investigating the source of the COVID-19 virus, as well as the U.S. response to the pandemic.

Then she veered into conspiracy theory, telling the Republican crowd, "We just heard this week that the CDC is going to mandate on the childhood vaccines, the COVID-19 vaccine, for children who we know aren't affected by COVID."

Wrong and wrong.

Recommendation not a mandate

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control is not mandating vaccinations for children. Only state or local authorities could require COVID-19 immunizations, and the Iowa legislature already banned school districts and child care centers from doing so earlier this year.

Adding the COVID-19 vaccine to the CDC's immunization schedule is intended to "streamline clinical guidance for healthcare providers by including all currently licensed, authorized and routinely recommended vaccines in one document."

More important, as former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb explained on the CBS program "Face the Nation" on October 23, a formal recommendation allows COVID-19 shots to be included in the federal government's Vaccines for Children Program, which "provides vaccines at no cost to children who might not otherwise be vaccinated because of inability to pay."

Our coronavirus response needs to address inequities in access to vaccines as well as other kinds of health care.

False claims about "the science"

Miller-Meeks tweeted the link to Gottlieb's appearance, adding her comment, "CDC adding COVID-19 vaccine to children’s vaccine schedule ignores the science."

What science? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the shots "for all infants, children, and adolescents 6 months of age and older who do not have contraindications to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine authorized or approved for use for their age." Why does Dr. Miller-Meeks, an ophthalmologist, think she knows "the science" better than the leading association of pediatricians?

Last year, Miller-Meeks repeatedly promoted the idea that "following the science" meant fully vaccinated individuals didn't need to wear a mask in crowded indoor spaces. In reality, research has supported layered mitigation strategies, not a vaccine-only approach, especially as more contagious coronavirus variants like Delta and Omicron became dominant.

COVID-19 does affect children

Although Miller-Meeks did encourage adults to get vaccinated for COVID-19 in 2021, for some reason, she is invested in the idea that the virus is harmless for children. Last year, she told a national television audience and her roughly 11,000 Twitter followers (now up to 12,000) that kids cannot transmit COVID-19 and don't need to wear masks. 

The Cedar Rapids Gazette investigated that claim and found Miller-Meeks misrepresented findings from outdated studies.

Why is this medical doctor still encouraging Iowans to believe kids "aren't affected by COVID"?

Unfortunately, the CDC has counted 938 COVID-19 deaths among U.S. kids between the ages of 5 and 18, and 556 deaths in the 0 to 4 age group. This chart is current as of October 19, 2022.

Although most children suffer only mild illness with this virus, we know little about the long-term impact of exposure. Some research points to a heightened risk of newly diagnosed diabetes following a COVID-19 infection, for instance.

Even if the virus were entirely harmless for kids, millions of children live in households with one or more vulnerable people. A vaccinated child is less likely to bring the virus home to a parent or grandparent undergoing treatment for cancer, or suffering from chronic ailments like diabetes, heart or kidney problems.

Iowa Republicans have long seen a political advantage in pandering to COVID-19 vaccine skeptics. But a doctor should know better than to misrepresent vaccine guidance or the benefits of vaccinating children. Especially since COVID-19 is on track to be Iowa's third-leading cause of death for the third straight year, and we are entering the winter with far too few Iowans fully vaccinated and boosted.

UPDATE: At a Republican event on October 25, Miller-Meeks described it as "tone deaf" for President Joe Biden to receive a COVID-19 booster shot on television (to promote vaccinations), during a time of high inflation.

Top photo of Mariannette Miller-Meeks speaking to Scott County Republicans on October 21 first published on her political Twitter feed.

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