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Michael Caputo. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

In September, Health and Human Services spokesperson Michael Caputo privately pitched one branch of the agency's $250 million coronavirus ad campaign with the theme: "Helping the President will Help the Country," according to documents released by House Democrats on the Oversight Committee on Thursday.

Why it matters: These are the latest documents that suggest the deep politicization of the Trump administration's coronavirus response.

  • Context: Caputo, a former member of the Trump campaign with no scientific background, reportedly accused career government scientists of "sedition" in September and said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a “resistance unit” that's trying to undermine Trump, per the New York Times.
  • Politico and trade publication PRWeek first detailed the agency's $250 million contract with a communications firm to "defeat despair and inspire hope" about the coronavirus pandemic.

Details: In a Sept. 15 meeting with subcontractor Burson Cohn & Wolfe and Atlas Research, which received a separate $15 million contract with HHS, Caputo pushed to title the agency's coronavirus ad campaign "Helping the President will Help the Country."

  • Caputo "attempted to insert himself into the process for reviewing public service announcements (PSAs)," the committee says — which "eventually provoked FDA career staff to warn contractors against compliance with his unauthorized and unethical interference."
  • Fors Marsh, the strategic communications firm that received the initial $250 million contract, laid out four "crisis scenarios" when planning for the campaign ad — including "accusations of using a pubic health campaign to promote a political message, instead of a scientific one."

Of note: One document obtained by the Oversight Committee indicated the Trump administration asked contractors to vet at least 274 celebrities for the ad campaign and rejected those who had publicly criticized the president or supported gay rights.

The other side: "While testifying before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, Secretary Azar announced that he had 'ordered a strategic review of this public health education campaign that will be led by top public health and communications experts to determine whether the campaign serves important public health purposes,'" an HHS spokesperson said.

Read the Oversight Committee’s letter to HHS.

Go deeper

21 hours ago - Politics & Policy

California governor and family in quarantine after coronavirus exposure

California Gov. Gavin Newsom. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) tweeted late Sunday that he and his family are quarantining after being exposed to COVID-19.

Details: Newsom said they learned Friday that three of his children had come into contact with a California Highway Patrol officer who tested positive for the coronavirus. "Thankfully, the entire family tested negative today," Newsom said.

13 hours ago - Health

Key information about the effective COVID-19 vaccines

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The race for a COVID-19 vaccine is ramping up, with three major candidates now reporting efficacy rates of more than 90%.

Why it matters: Health experts say the world can't fully return to normal until a coronavirus vaccine is widely distributed. But each potential vaccine has its own nuances, and it's likely that multiple vaccines will be needed in order to supply enough doses for universal vaccination.

Dave Lawler, author of World
10 hours ago - World

Oxford and AstraZeneca's vaccine won't just go to rich countries

Waiting, in New Delhi. Photo: Jewel Samad/AFP via Getty Images

While the 95% efficacy rates for the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines are great news for the U.S. and Europe, Monday's announcement from Oxford and AstraZeneca may be far more significant for the rest of the world.

Why it matters: Oxford and AstraZeneca plan to distribute their vaccine at cost (around $3-4 per dose), and have already committed to providing over 1 billion doses to the developing world. The price tags are higher for the Pfizer ($20) and Moderna ($32-37) vaccines.

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