Covid-19: why is the scientific council so discreet?



The scientific council has never been so discreet. Created in March 2020 to guide the executive in its fight against Covid-19, the body chaired by immunologist Jean-François Delfraissy has not been published on the website of the Ministry of Health since January 19. An unprecedented silence, when more than 30 of his works were broadcast during the first ten months of the epidemic.

→ BENCHMARKS. Coronavirus: who makes up the scientific committee that advises the executive?

However, the council has not suspended its research: three opinions have been communicated over the past four weeks to the government, which “Will make them public when he wishes”, said Professor Delfraissy on February 17. The public health code requires that “Notice” of the scientific council are disseminated ” without delay “ after their communication to the government and to the presidents of the National Assembly and the Senate.

“Desecrate” the advice of the council

“Nothing remains hidden”, assures the Élysée, which invites “Desecrate the opinion of the scientific council” and “Decompartmentalize the idea that he would be the only one to give serious or public opinions”. But no withholding of information, swears the presidency: “All the notes that the scientific council informally sends back to the executive always end up later in an opinion. “

“It is normal that, since the decision [sur la gestion de l’épidémie] was not taken, what was communicated to the politician is not in the public square. Otherwise, it is a form of pressure put on the executive “, considers Franck Chauvin, president of the High Council of Public Health and member of the Scientific Council.

The stagnation of the epidemic curves is also invoked to justify the pause of the diffusion of notices. “The prolific publications in 2020 responded to the need to take decisions very quickly in the face of a rapid, unpredictable and uncertain evolution of the epidemic,” distinguishes an advisor to Emmanuel Macron. Today, we are on a high plateau which does not move or very little. The situation is worrying, but it is stable. It does not call for an urgent response. “

New members and “fairly sustained pace”

In recent weeks, the life of the council has above all been marked by the arrival of four new members, formalized by a decree of February 16: a child psychiatrist (Angèle Consoli), a veterinarian (Thierry Lefrançois), an infectious disease specialist (Catherine Chirouze) and a geriatrician (Olivier Guérin). So many specialties that would allow the group, now made up of 17 scientists, to be more responsive to new “Stakes” the epidemic and the constraints it imposes on populations.

Two weeks after his integration, Olivier Guérin sweeps aside the questions about an alleged decline in council activity, describing a “Fairly sustained pace” and “Meetings all together almost every other day”. The health situation in Mayotte, Moselle or “Competition between variants” have been the subject of confidential notes. “It’s not bad that the work is not published instantly, that the executive has time, observes the president of the French Society of Geriatrics and head of pole at the CHU de Nice. Our job is not to have an opinion that would constrain the politician, who must be free to decide. “

Publications in a specialized journal

“It is not because we are not in the media that we do not work, on the contrary, we may work better in silence”, replied Jean-François Delfraissy at his last press conference on February 17. The next day, the chairman of the board and four other members published a point of view in the medical journal The Lancet Public Health. They defend a “New approach” facing Covid-19 and a ” social contract “ between generations, the oldest agreeing to self-isolate.

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A speech motivated by the lack of publicity given to their latest work? “Last week, two members of the board – Arnaud Fontanet and Simon Cauchemez – published in the same magazine and no one stepped up to the plate, recalls Franck Chauvin, one of the signatories. It is normal that we participate in the scientific debate that is happening at the global level. Point. It’s nothing more than that. “

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