As COVID-19 has swept across our country, its spread has been marked by unimaginable loss. But the factors that have led to this loss have at times been cloaked in secrecy. As federal, state and local governments have attempted to stem the spread of this pandemic, transparency has fallen to the wayside.
As we near the distribution of a vaccine that could finally bring an end to the pandemic, the free flow of information regarding its safety, efficacy, and deployment is essential to restoring public trust in our country’s health care institutions. In this sense, transparency is as important to a successful vaccine as the science behind it.
NPR reports that the White House worked around the rules to track and monitor the use of taxpayer dollars to pay pharmaceutical companies developing the COVID-19 vaccine. By routing billions of dollars through a defense contracting firm not subject to federal public records laws, taxpayers have no way of knowing how their dollars are being spent to support vaccine development.
Now that details are slowly being released thanks to dogged reporting, they show the contracts pharmaceutical companies cut with the defense contractor lack standard taxpayer protections.
Others report concerns about the secrecy of those who approve vaccines for distribution and whether they hold conflicts of interest with the very pharmaceutical companies they are tasked with regulating.
At the same time, RTDNA’s members are fighting a slew of unsubstantiated conspiracy theories about the timing of the vaccine’s release, its composition, and countless other claims that dilute confidence in public health practices.
Unfortunately, these concerns from journalists and the public result in an exacerbation of the anxiety and sense of helplessness that so many Americans are weathering this year.
As journalists, we know that one truth holds regardless of the challenges our country navigates: Confidence in those in power is reliant upon the transparency in which they conduct themselves. When a public agency is unable or, in the worst cases, unwilling to make critical information available to those it serves, it defeats the very purpose vested in it by Americans.
In this case, transparency isn’t just a value, it’s an economic imperative. Understanding the dissemination of the vaccine and its effectiveness after deployment will aid in bringing certainty back to our economy as Americans seek to return to their pre-pandemic ways of life.
Going forward, we urge public officials at the national and local levels charged with overseeing the vaccine’s distribution to hold the public’s trust paramount and not hold back the information that builds it. At the state and local levels, we believe governments need to practice radical transparency. They need to provide journalists access to every bit of information about the vaccination rollout process other than names, social security numbers and other protected information so journalists can provide the public the information it needs to make critical decisions as they return to work, school and a more normal life.
If you are struggling to get information from your state or local government and would like RTDNA’s help pushing for more transparency as you explore vaccination information, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.