Coronavirus: Four times Mike Pence denied health-related science

Chelsea Ritschel

Following the announcement that Mike Pence would be leading the United States’ response to the coronavirus threat, concerns have been raised over the vice president’s ability to handle a health crisis.

On Wednesday, President Trump made a rare appearance in the White House briefing room, where he said Pence would be overseeing the administration’s Covid-19 coronavirus task force because “he’s got a certain talent for this”.

However, following the vice president’s appointment, critics pointed out that Pence has a questionable track record when it comes to his ability to effectively deal with health-related matters.

These are four instances where Pence has argued against science and how it relates to public health.

During Indiana’s HIV outbreak in 2015, Pence initially opposed a clean-needle exchange

After the president’s appointment, the majority of criticism surrounding his decision revolved around Pence’s handling of the nation’s first HIV outbreak linked to intravenous-use painkillers in 2015.

At the time, Pence, who was the governor of Indiana, initially rejected allowing a clean-needle exchange, despite the advice of health officials.

Although Pence, after “praying on it,” eventually lifted the ban on needle exchanges when he declared a public health emergency, a decision he said he did not “enter into lightly,” studies published in medical journals have said the outbreak could have been prevented had the state acted faster.

According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine the following year, the health crisis may not have happened had the state not banned syringe exchanges.

Among those criticising Pence’s ability to keep the country safe from new coronavirus considering his handling of the HIV crisis was Leana Wen, the former head of Planned Parenthood, who tweeted: “As Governor of Indiana, an HIV/AIDS epidemic flourished until he allowed public health - not ideology - to direct policy & response.

“I hope he now follows the guidance of the exceptional career public health leaders @CDCgov & in the admin.”

Despite the state’s failure to prevent the outbreak, President Trump pointed to Indiana as a sign of the vice president’s capability.

"Look at the Indiana model, they have been very successful there,” the president said.

Pence previously said smoking doesn’t kill

In 2000, the now-vice president published an op-ed in which he said it was “time for a quick reality check” over what he claimed was overblown hysteria about the effects of smoking cigarettes.

“Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn’t kill,” he wrote, before citing smoking statistics.

He did, however, acknowledge that smoking is “not good for you”.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cigarette smoking harms “nearly every organ of the body” and is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States.

He said condoms are “very poor” protection against sexually transmitted diseases

Despite scientific evidence that shows condoms are “highly effective” in reducing the spread of sexually transmitted disease, Pence told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in 2002 that condoms are a “very, very poor protection against sexually transmitted disease”.

During the segment, Pence added that he believes the only “truly safe sex” is “no sex”.

Pence has refused to say that climate change is a threat

During an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper in 2019, the vice president continuously avoided the host’s question about whether he thinks “human-induced climate emergency is a threat”.

After failing to confirm or deny his views on the subject, Pence said: “I think we’re making great progress reducing carbon emissions,” before incorrectly claiming that “America has the cleanest air and water in the world”.

“That is not true. We don’t have the cleanest air and water in the world,” Tapper responded.

When ranking countries with the cleanest air, the US comes in 10th place, according to the Environmental Performance Index (EPI), and in 29th place for “water and sanitation”.

He is suspected of advocating for conversion therapy

Although Pence has never explicitly stated a support for conversion therapy, some believe the language used on his campaign website during his 2000 run for Congress advocated for the discredited practices aimed at changing an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

According to Snopes, Pence’s campaign website said that federal funding for HIV patients “should be directed towards those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behaviour”.

The American Psychiatric Associated rejects the practise of conversion therapy as it is based on “developmental theories whose scientific validity is questionable” and has the potential to “harm young people”.

“The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counselling Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American School Counsellor Association, the National Association of School Psychologists and the National Association of Social Workers together, representing more than 480,000 mental health professionals, have all taken the position that homosexuality is not a mental disorder and thus is not something that needs to or can be ‘cured,’” the organisation states.

After Pence was tasked with leading the charge against the virus, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was among those criticising the vice president’s past decisions.

“Mike Pence literally does not believe in science,” the Democratic congresswoman tweeted. “It is utterly irresponsible to put him in charge of US coronavirus response as the world sits on the cusp of a pandemic.

“This decision could cost people their lives. Pence’s past decisions already have.”

On Thursday, the CDC confirmed the first US new coronavirus case of “unknown origin”.

To date, the virus has infected 82,550 people worldwide and killed 2,810.

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