COMMENTS on WHO walk back:
The WHO just walked back their statement on asymptomatic people rarely spreading so far they’re now emphasizing how dangerous people without symptoms can be.
First of all I need to say this is exactly what they should do. Clear up a statement as soon as possible. Thanks for that.
But this is such a mistake that I’m not sure how or if WHO pronouncements can be covered now.
They walked back their statement first by saying it can be transmitted asymptomatically, then said 40% of spread can be asymptomatic.
And fell back to the obvious— which is way too early to know.
So why did the WHO express such certainty?
Today we heard the following:
-that wasn’t a WHO opinion
-they had contradictory studies
-they have only one small non-peer reviewed set of observations
-please read our footnotes from prior statements so you can tell we don’t mean what we say
And of course there’s the obvious—
-symptomatic people sneeze & cough more
-symptomatic people are isolated & we are seeing the largest global spread right now
-pre symptomatic is when a lot of virus shedding happens (as they said)
-can’t tell pre symptomatic from asymptomatic ppl
-they refined the use of “very rare” to mean they were just talking about one set of non reviewed data
-meanwhile humans interpret very rare to mean VERY RARE
There are 4 contradictory studies on the matter
And most importantly showing certainty was way out of proportion. To be fair US reporting oversimplified it too.
I’m inclined in general to be on the forgiving side when people admit mistakes. Particularly in the heat of science.
But here it’s hard to be understanding.
First of all, stop expressing certainty when you don’t have it.
Second, stop speaking at press conferences if you’re not speaking for the organization.
Third, the time for the correction was YESTERDAY.
Fourth, public health communication isn’t ancillary to public health. It is the central component in battling it.
To understand this better, listen to this conversation with Chelsea Clinton about the WHO and public health communications.
-We’ve been here before. When the WHO said antibodies don’t mean immunity, they had to walk it back and say they meant they haven’t been able to study it yet after panicking many people.
WHO hasn’t shown as much regret as they have explained to us we don’t know how to interpret them.
We are going to have to follow the messy scientific process of 2 steps forward, 1 step back.
We will end up learning things which contradict what we believed. Scientists can’t be blamed for sharing what they know when they know it ...
But much much more humility & care should be expected from WHO.
In the meantime if I were a reporter I would never source them until I fact check them.
If you missed the WHO press conference and want to see it, it is here.
If you missed the whole flap from yesterday, here is the walkthrough. Pre-walkback.
You can follow @ASlavitt.
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