Pence to lead coronavirus response despite poor track record fighting outbreaks


Mike Pence has a questionable past with public health.

Donald Trump on Wednesday tried to quell fears about a potential spread of the COVID-19 disease by naming Mike Pence to lead the response to the public health crisis.

"Mike will be working with the professionals, doctors and everybody else that is working. The team is brilliant. I spent a lot of time with the team the last couple weeks," Trump said at a Wednesday night news conference meant to assuage fears over the disease.

"But they are brilliant and we're doing really well and Mike is going to be in charge and Mike will report back to me. But he has a certain talent for this," Trump added.

However, Pence has a checkered past when it comes to dealing with public health crises, including overseeing the worst HIV outbreak in Indiana history when he served as the state's governor.

Pence's public health failures stem from the fact that he often casts doubt on settled science, and has advocated against things like hypodermic needle exchanges and the use of contraceptives due to his personal religious and political beliefs.

Experts said the HIV outbreak in Indiana was due to intravenous drug use and could have been solved by implementing a hypodermic needle exchange.

However, Pence was morally opposed to needle exchanges, saying he believed it led to more drug use — a position that helped worsen the HIV outbreak.

Pence also has a number of other problematic and downright incorrect beliefs when it comes to public health.

In 2002, Pence said that "condoms are a very, very poor protection against sexually transmitted diseases" and that he did not believe in educating the public on using condoms to prevent sexually transmitted diseases.

Of course, condoms do prevent STDs, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saying that "consistent and correct use of the male latex condom reduces the risk of sexually transmitted disease (STD) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) transmission."

Public health experts also criticized Pence in 2015, when he served as Indiana governor, for changing language in a letter sent to parents reminding them to vaccinate their children against HPV.

Pence intervened and change the letter to say the vaccine was optional, leading experts to worry that fewer parents would vaccinate their children against HPV, which can cause genital warts and certain cancers.

And in 2000, Pence said he doesn't believe medical experts who say smoking can kill you.

"Time for a quick reality check," Pence wrote in an op-ed at the time. "Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn't kill. In fact, 2 out of every three smokers does not die from a smoking related illness and 9 out of ten smokers do not contract lung cancer."

Now, Pence will oversee the response to the COVID-19 disease, a product of the coronavirus which started in China and has begun to spread to different countries.

Trump has tried to reassure Americans, saying at a news conference Wednesday night that "the risk to the American people remains very low."

However, minutes after he made that comment, the CDC announced that a man in California had contracted the disease without traveling to a country impacted by the virus, suggesting a community outbreak may be starting.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.