The following is an excerpt from Paul D. Thacker's latest article in his Substack newsletter: The DisInformation Chronicle.
"Weber Shandwick Provides PR for Moderna and Pfizer, While Staffing the CDC’s Vaccine Office."
In an odd case of synchronicity—and let’s be honest, a whiff of undue influence—Weber Shandwick employees are also embedded at the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD), the CDC group that implements vaccine programs and oversees the work of ACIP.
“So excited to be starting a new role today,” wrote a Weber Shandwick employee 11 months ago on her LinkedIn account. “I’m joining Weber Shandwick as an Account Director supporting a contract I know well, at CDC’s NCIRD!”
“Welcome back to the team!” responded another Weber Shandwick employee.
Beginning last week, I sent several emails to the CDC asking them to explain the nature of Weber Shandwick’s work at the agency and how involved Weber Shandwick employees are in the formulating guidance and public information on COVID-19 policy and vaccinations. Yesterday, I followed up with direct requests for comment emailed to the CDC Director and her Executive Secretary.
The CDC has refused to respond to questions explaining this apparent conflict.
I also sent several questions yesterday to leaders at Weber Shandwick’s crisis communications group. I heard back from Weber Shandwick’s head of global communications last night and will update readers if they respond.
“This is irresponsible of CDC to issue a PR contract to Weber Shandwick, knowing that the firm also works for Moderna and Pfizer,” emailed Public Citizen’s Craig Holman. “It raises legitimate questions of whose interests Weber Shandwick will put first – their private sector clients or the public’s interest at NCIRD.”
“This new reporting that CDC had a contract with the same PR firm representing the manufacturers of the COVID-19 vaccine raises serious concerns,” wrote a spokesperson for Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), adding that the Senator has repeatedly questioned federal officials about potential conflicts of interest related to CDC’s COVID-19 vaccine recommendations.
Following the midterm elections in November, Senator Paul will be next in line as the top Republican on the Senate HELP Committee which oversees the CDC.
“The American people deserve transparency and these conflicts of interest will be thoroughly investigated by our committee next year,” the Senator’s spokesperson added.
(**See Senator Rand Paul's letter to CDC director at the end of this excerpt.**)
Founded almost 20 years ago, Weber Shandwick (IPG Dxtra) is the second largest PR firm in the world, according to Provoke Media, which will announce awards the firm has won at a contest held later this year.
According to Medical Marketing and Media, Weber Shandwick first won a potential $50 million contract to support the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases in September 2020, during COVID pandemic’s first year.
According to NCIRD documents, Weber employees would communicate the risks and recommended actions for outbreaks and convey vaccine recommendations to healthcare providers.
Weber’s duties include providing 10 on-site health communications staffers, seven health comms specialists, two health research specialists and one social media specialist. The agency’s earned media responsibilities include generating story ideas, distributing articles and conducting outreach to news, media and entertainment organizations. It also includes conducting satellite radio and TV tours, providing spokesperson training and reaching out to celebrities or entertainment media.
On his LinkedIn Account, a former Weber Shandwick employee explained that his duties at the CDC “focuses on boosting vaccination rates for flu, HPV, whooping cough, and COVID-19.”
A few weeks after Weber Shandwick won the CDC contract, a senior vice president at the firm posted a company blog laying out the realities and dangers of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the blog’s bottom, she disclosed, that an asterisk indicated Weber Shandwick clients working on COVID-19 vaccines: GSK, Sanofi, and Pfizer.
This June, Moderna announced a new communications strategy, which would be led by Laura Schoen, who is sometimes titled president of global healthcare at Weber Shandwick, and other times chief healthcare officer at IPG DXTRA, Weber Shandwick’s parent company.
An integrated and cross-discipline team drawing on talent and expertise from Weber Shandwick, Golin and Jack Health, will join Moderna's global agency roster to drive the brand's narrative globally. The team, led by DXTRA Health's Chief Healthcare Officer, Laura Schoen, will support Moderna in activating and engaging key internal and external audiences, including employees, consumers, healthcare providers, vaccine recipients and policymakers.
A Weber Shandwick employee later tweeted support for Moderna’s proposed panel at the upcoming South by Southwest Conference this March. “Vote for my #client Moderna’s SXSW 2023 entry: ‘COVID, Monkeypox, Disease X, What’s Next?’”
“It is concerning that CDC talking points are provided by the same public relations company that works for the vaccine manufacturers,” said Dr. Martin Kulldorf, Professor of Medicine at Harvard (on leave).
For two decades, Kulldorf worked with the CDC to help develop its vaccine safety evaluation system. However, the CDC fired him from this job after he disagreed with the agency’s decision to pause the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, a competitor with Pfizer and Moderna.
“To ensure public trust, CDC must provide accurate, science-based evidence on vaccines,” Kulldorf said. “They have failed to do so.”
Read full Substack article here.
Note: Since this information was first reported by Paul D. Thacker, Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) has submitted a letter to CDC Director Rochelle Wallensky, questioning the nature of the work that Weber Shandwick was contracted to perform.
Read Sen. Paul's letter here or below: