AWOL Dr. Nancy Messonnier Needs to Face the Music

Last month, David Lim of Politico wanted to know why Dr. Nancy Messonnier, longtime director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD), had been reassigned in April, and why she ultimately resigned from the CDC. In a May 7 White House briefing, current CDC boss Dr. Rochelle Walensky offered this response:

Dr. Messonnier has been a true hero. And through her career, in terms of public health, she’s been a steward of public health for the nation. Over this pandemic and through a many-decade career, she’s made significant contributions, and she leaves behind a strong, strong force of leadership and courage in all that she’s done.

Lim never got his answer, and Biden’s CDC boss quickly moved on. That invites a review of what “true hero” Dr. Messonnier managed to accomplish “over this pandemic.” 

Messonnier earned a medical degree from the University of Chicago but her bio shows no advanced degrees in molecular biology or cell biology. Strictly speaking, Messonnier is not a virologist but in early 2020 she was the CDC’s main mouthpiece on the pandemic.

In a CDC telebriefing on January 17, 2020, Messonnier mentioned “the outbreak of pneumonia in Wuhan City, China, which has been identified as being caused by a novel coronavirus.” It was “a serious situation,” and she cautioned about travel to and from Wuhan. In a January 24 briefing, Messonnier said “we expect to find more cases of novel coronavirus in the United States associated with the ongoing and expanding outbreak in Wuhan, China.”

Sarah Owermohle of Politico wanted to know “what kind of dialogue are you guys are having with Chinese health authorities” and “if there is any inkling” of where the novel coronavirus is coming from? 

“CDC has a team that’s been in China for many years where we work closely with the Department of Health in China,” Messonnier said. “I think we should be clear to compliment the Chinese on the early recognition of the respiratory outbreak center in the Wuhan market, and how rapidly they were able to identify it as a novel coronavirus.” 

In her January 29, 2020, CDC telebriefing, Messonnier confirmed that the CDC would be part of a “WHO mission” in China. In a January 30, telebriefing, Messonnier referred to “this new virus” without revealing how it differed from others. In a briefing on February 5, reporters asked about individuals returning from Wuhan. Messonnier said that was “not something that I’m at liberty to talk about today.” 

None of the reporters asked Messonnier which official was laying down the rules about what she could reveal to the public. In her February 12, 2020 CDC telebriefing, Messonnier warned, “We should be prepared for this new virus to gain a foothold in the U.S.,” and “at some point, we are likely to see community spread in the U.S.”

In her February 25, 2020 CDC telebriefing, she told reporters, “It’s not a question of if this will happen but when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illnesses.” That drew a question from Craig Fiegener of KNX Radio in Los Angeles:

Is the Chinese government leveling with you? Are they telling you the truth?  Have they given you the straight dope, so to speak, as to what you need to know about the coronavirus?

“In terms of the Chinese government,” Messonnier responded, “there has been a WHO team on the ground in China as well [sic] in Wuhan. There are data coming out from those efforts. We have a lot of information from China.” Messonnier did not give the reporters any of this “information from China.” 

In a March 9, 2020 telebriefing, Messonnier said, “There is risk of being exposed and getting sick from this virus and there is risk of getting very sick or dying from illness with this virus. This virus is capable of spreading easily and sustainably from person to person based on the available data. The report of the World Health Organization mission to China describes the virus as being highly contagious. And there’s essentially no immunity against this virus in the population because it’s a new virus.” 

To recap, Nancy Messonnier identified the “Wuhan market,” as the source of the deadly “new virus,” for which there was no immunity. She praised China and hailed CDC cooperation with the China-compliant World Health Organization. At no point did Messonnier deviate from the PRC-WHO line, and she was evasive about China’s role. So was Anthony Fauci, who took over as the government’s main mouthpiece on all things pandemic. 

After the November election, Joe Biden’s COVID-19 advisory board called for Messonnier to take a central role in pandemic briefings. That never happened, and after her April reassignment, Messonnier resigned in early May. Congressional investigators have good reason to open an investigation, put Messonnier under oath, and fire away. 

What did Nancy Messonnier know about the “new virus,” and when did she know it? Who told her she was “not at liberty” to answer questions about Wuhan? What did she know about the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the dangerous gain-of-function research that went on there, funded by the National Institutes of Health? Did Communist China ever do anything with which she disagreed? And so on. 

But there’s more to it. 

In 1995, Messonnier began her career as an officer of the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service, a squad of “disease detectives” tasked with preventing dangerous viruses from arriving on American soil. What was the EIS role with the “new virus” from Wuhan? As embattled Americans know, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sure didn’t “prevent” COVID-19. 

Reporters, investigators, and concerned citizens can now find “true hero” Nancy Messonnier at the Skoll Foundation, where she serves as executive director for pandemic prevention and health systems.

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About Lloyd Billingsley

Lloyd Billingsley is the author of Hollywood Party and other books including Bill of Writes and Barack ‘em Up: A Literary Investigation. His journalism has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Spectator (London) and many other publications. Billingsley serves as a policy fellow with the Independent Institute.

Photo: Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images