The White House has announced that Dr. Ashish K. Jha will soon replace Jeffrey Zients as the Biden administration’s coronavirus response coordinator. The good news is that Jha, unlike Zients, is an actual physician. The bad news is that, since the advent of COVID-19, his public statements concerning the pandemic have been tainted by partisan politics and malicious ad hominem attacks on any heretic who dares to question establishment coronavirus orthodoxy. Dr. Jha once appeared on The View, for example, to accuse Stanford University’s Dr. Scott W. Atlas of spreading unspecified “misinformation” during the latter’s brief tenure as advisor to then-President Trump.
Anyone reluctant to believe this cheap shot was more about politics than public health should consider that Jha also pronounced Trump rallies dangerous, yet insisted that BLM riots were not. He made this claim in a tweet: “I spoke to @CarlaKJohnson of @AP said that I thought President Trump’s rallies are dangerous. They are very risky. Before you lose your mind and call me a hypocrite for not calling BLM protests dangerous, let’s examine some facts.” The “facts” proving those BLM riots safe turned out to be that the rioters were outside in roving mobs and, according to Jha, wearing masks. He ended his absurd thread with this revealing tweet: “I don’t find protests against racism and political rallies to be morally equivalent.”
Predictably, Dr. Jha has been a vocal supporter of government-imposed vaccine mandates — including the constitutionally dubious “workaround” promulgated by the Biden administration under the aegis of the Occupational, Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). He was among the signatories to a joint statement, coordinated by occasional Biden advisor Ezekiel Emanuel, calling on the business community to forgo legal challenges to the mandate. Fortunately, this was ignored by the affected entities and the Supreme Court struck down the mandate in a January ruling. In keeping with his affinity for government directives, Dr. Jha is also very much in favor of “vaccine certificates.” He wrote the following in the Economist:
How will you know if the person next to you on a bus, aeroplane or checkout line is infectious with covid-19? Should you know? How can you keep yourself and your workplace safe in a way that is equitable and protects privacy? As countries administer covid-19 vaccines, having a vaccine certificate — a simple, reliable and secure way to determine who is inoculated — will be critical to making work, school, restaurants, houses of worship and other places safe for everyone.
This was written before the OSHA mandate was invalidated by SCOTUS, a ruling Dr. Jha deemed “very disappointing.” Yet it presumably demonstrated that mandatory vaccine certificates will suffer the same fate if imposed at the federal level. It’s far more conceivable that vaccine mandates and certificates will pass constitutional muster if established at the state level. Still, it’s clear from Jha’s public effusions that he has considerably more faith in government coercion and surveillance than in the individual judgment of ordinary Americans. This isn’t an encouraging trait in a COVID response coordinator who surely understands that the disease is entering an endemic phase the management of which doesn’t call for sweeping federal edicts.
Dr. Jha’s partiality for big government mandates is related to his most unprofessional proclivity — the need to level personal attacks on anyone who possesses the temerity to disagree with any aspect of his own rigid public policy positions. The cheap shot involving Dr. Scott Atlas noted above is by no means unique. During a New York Times podcast aired in January, Jha discussed what he called “the rise of the quasi-experts,” which he defined as “a group of people with good titles” who should know better than to render heretical opinions about the pandemic. Among the heretics he has lumped into this category is Martin A. Makary, MD, MPH, a surgeon and public policy expert at Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins University:
He has never been held back by being wrong. So he says stuff — he had this pronouncement that we were going to hit herd immunity in April 2021. Turned out not so much.… But he’s a professor at Hopkins. If you are a normal American, and this is a guy at Hopkins — one of the leading institutions — who seems and is really smart … how do you deal with that? That’s the challenge. People are struggling to figure out who are the real experts and who is just making it up.
In addition to going after Drs. Makary and Atlas, the good doctor has also maligned Nobel Laureate and biophysicist Michael Levitt, Stanford Professor of Medicine Jay Bhattacharya, and Harvard epidemiologist Martin Kuldorf. Their crime, according to one of Dr. Jha’s typically politicized tweets, was to participate in a public health roundtable with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R): “Wondering why @GovRonDeSantis fully opened bars, restaurants? May be partly b/c he held roundtable w @MartinKulldorff, @DrJBhattacharya, @MLevitt_NP2013 yesterday.” Not coincidentally, each of these “quasi-experts” has long opposed the misguided and destructive lockdowns Jha advocated when COVID-19 arrived in the United States.
In the end, DeSantis followed their advice and Florida has achieved a lower per capita death rate than other large states, like New York, that followed the kind of restrictive policies favored by Jha. This suggests that the country might have been better served if President Biden had chosen one of the targets of Dr. Jha’s venom to replace Jeffrey Zients as his administration’s coronavirus response coordinator. Instead, we are getting a political partisan who will brook no deviation from the coronavirus orthodoxy that has wreaked so much havoc to the physical, psychological, and economic health of countless Americans. But hey, he’s a “real expert.”