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Michael Caputo in Washington, D.C. in May 2018. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson Michael Caputo is taking a 60 day leave of absence "to focus on his health and the well-being of his family," the agency said in a statement on Wednesday.

Driving the news: Caputo baselessly accused career scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a Facebook livestream on Sunday of gathering a "resistance unit" for "sedition" against President Trump, the New York Times reported on Tuesday. He apologized to staff on Tuesday, according to Politico.

  • In the same Facebook livestream, Caputo — a former Trump campaign official with no scientific background — encouraged followers to buy ammunition in the event that Joe Biden loses the election and refuses to concede. "And when Donald Trump refuses to stand down at the inauguration, the shooting will begin,” Caputo said.
  • Caputo also said he feels his "mental health has definitely failed" in part due to critical media coverage, and sounded "anguished" over the coronavirus death toll, per the Times.

The big picture: Caputo's leave of absence comes on the tails of a House investigation into allegations that he and other political appointees pressured CDC officials "to block the publication of accurate scientific reports" on the coronavirus. Paul Alexander, Caputo's senior adviser, is leaving the department, HHS also announced.

  • Alexander is one of the political appointees to the HHS who "openly complained that the agency’s reports would undermine President Donald Trump's optimistic messages” on the coronavirus, Politico’s Dan Diamond reported last week, citing internal emails.
  • Alexander reportedly accused the authors of the CDC's weekly COVID-19 reports of trying to "hurt the President."

Go deeper

Dec 24, 2020 - Health

Mexico becomes first Latin American country to vaccinate against COVID

A nurse was the first person in Mexico to receive the vcaccine. Photo: Pedro Pardo/AFP via Getty

Mexico became the first Latin American country to begin coronavirus vaccinations, amid a surge in cases, the New York Times reports.

Why it matters: The serum arrives as Mexico's hospitals reach a breaking point. The country tallies over 1.3 million COVID-19 cases and 120,000 deaths, per John Hopkins University data, though actual numbers are believed to be much higher.

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
Dec 23, 2020 - Health

Why Americans will demand to be able to prove they're vaccinated

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

You've received a coronavirus vaccination — but can you prove it? The answer to that question will help determine how the global economy functions for the next few years.

Why it matters: The federal government will probably neither mandate nor encourage digital immunity passports or other proofs of vaccination. But privately-operated digital certificates are already being developed — and U.S. law means that anybody who gets vaccinated here should be able to obtain the proof they need.

2 hours ago - World

Biden freezes U.S. arms deals with Saudi Arabia and UAE

Trump struck several large arms deals with Mohammed bin Salman (L) and Saudi Arabia. Photo: Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images

The Biden administration has put on hold two big arms deals with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates which were approved in the final weeks of the Trump administration, a State Department official tells Axios.

Why it matters: The sales of F-35 jets and attack drones to the UAE and a large supply of munitions to Saudi Arabia will be paused pending a review. That signals a major policy shift from the Trump era, and may herald sharp tensions with both Gulf countries.