Lawmakers in Congress wanted answers out of the Trump administration this week as to why they didn’t use a coronavirus test from the World Health Organization instead of developing their own — a Centers for Disease Control test which had a fault in it.
At Sunday’s Democratic presidential primary debate, former Vice President Joe Biden even said that WHO COVID-19 test kits were offered and refused by the administration.
“Look, the World Health Organization offered the testing kits that they have available and to give it to us now. We refused them. We did not want to buy them. We did not want to get them from them. We wanted to make sure we had our own,” Biden said.
According to PolitiFact, which rated the claim “Mostly False,” Biden’s campaign directed them to an article from Politico which said that almost 60 countries had received coronavirus testing kits by the end of February but that the United States was not among them. Accurate, but as PolitiFact noted, “countries WHO helped are ones that lack the virology lab horsepower that exists across the United States.”
And indeed, that’s what happened.
“No discussions occurred between WHO and the CDC about providing tests to the United States, WHO spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic told CNN on Tuesday, and WHO did not offer coronavirus tests to the CDC,” CNN reported.
“The United States, Jasarevic confirmed, doesn’t ordinarily rely on WHO for tests because the U.S. typically has the capacity to manufacture its own diagnostics.”
Now, before we go on, let’s make something abundantly clear: Joe Biden did know or should have known this before he made the claim on Sunday.
This is a man who’s spent almost half a century in politics at this point. He spent eight years as vice president. If he didn’t know the CDC’s capacity to manufacture its own diagnostics, we need to ask some more questions about the Democratic presidential frontrunner.
Trump administration officials, meanwhile, also said that WHO’s test — which was modeled after a German test developed shortly after Chinese scientists sequenced and released the genome of the disease — wasn’t offered to them.
“No one ever offered a test that we refused,” said Adm. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services, according to The Hill.
“This was a research-grade test that was not approved, not submitted to the [Food and Drug Administration] … there was a small number that we have greatly surpassed in a very short period of time.”
The State Department’s Deborah Birx, who is the White House coronavirus response coordinator, says that while the CDC may have stumbled in their introduction of the test, it will end up being more effective than WHO’s, saying that the rigors of increased testing have delayed the tests.
“We were adamant about having a high quality test based on our commercial vendors,” she said.
“Over the next few months you’ll begin to see that other tests that were utilized around the world were not of the same quality, resulting in false positives and potentially false negatives.”
The president echoed those thoughts.
“So number one, nothing was offered, number two, it was a bad test. Otherwise, it was wonderful,” he said.
As for Joe Biden? “I assume he’ll apologize,” Trump added.
But probably not, and that’s the real issue. A lie of that magnitude should be called out when we’re in the midst of a national emergency. No such calling-out has happened, not of this hour and likely not of any hour before Donald Trump stops being president.
Like so much else in the COVID-19 pandemic, the WHO test is being used as a political cudgel to whack away at the other side. Turns out WHO never offered the test? Treat it like a broken weapon in a video game: Discard it and pick another one.
Biden is a man who shouldn’t be able to afford this kind of inexact language, not at a moment like this. He wasn’t just wrong, it was almost certainly deliberate — and he wasn’t alone.
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