When it became clear that shelter-in-place policies would be necessary to flatten the curve of covid-19, many observers were concerned that such action could cause more harm than the virus ever would. The notion that "deaths of despair" would occur took hold though the contention was not based on any evidence.
Now there are several areas around the world where actual data is beginning to emerge. Recent data suggest that in Japan suicide rates during the lockdown declined, and in British Columbia, Canada, suicide rates were either down or are stable from prior years. This week, findings by a team of scientists that I lead from Harvard Medical School and Yale Medical School were published on the preprint server medrxiv which showed that suicide rates during the lengthy stay-at-home advisory in Massachusetts from March through May, 2020 did not change from past years nor did they deviate from 2020 projections.
This goes against assumptions that many people made without evidence. While the pandemic is likely to be a psychological stressor, increases in anxiety, depression, and even suicidal thoughts do not necessarily mean suicide deaths will increase. It may still be that suicides go up in the future as the pandemic drags on. But it appears unlikely that the lockdowns themselves cause these deaths. Rather, economic woes and uncertainties may in fact drive suicides. Ironically, places that shutdown the longest and controlled the virus the best, may have faster economic recoveries which could lead to fewer suicides. But that data is not yet available and so this is only conjecture.
For now we can say that shelter-in-place policies are not likely to themselves cause an increase in suicide deaths, despite invented claims to the contrary made by President Trump and those who appear to be willing to say anything, regardless of any basis in fact, to convince Americans that the virus itself is not the serious threat that we know it to be.
In a stunning revelation, there is a credible media report that Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar has expended serious effort over the last several weeks trying to have Stephen Hahn, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), removed from his post.
Allies within HHS say that Azar has repeatedly discussed a White House-directed removal as Hahn, and even floated names of potential replacements. The boiling point appears to be the disconnect between the FDA's mandated safety guidelines for any vaccine development and HHS's desire to keep President Trump's promise of a vaccine by election day.
After a long and divisive process, the FDA was finally able to publish its desired guidelines, which were hailed by many members of the the scientific community (note: Brief19's editor-in-chief signed a letter written to the FDA in support of the now-established longer period of safety data before a vaccine is authorized) but this comes on the tail of months of infighting over Emergency Use Authorizations (EUAs) for various possible treatments for covid-19 (of varying quality), coronavirus testing standards, and even fundamental regulatory authority. Confounding this were moves and retractions largely seen as political in nature from both the FDA and HHS, creating what many fear to be an unbridgeable divide between the two organizations on vaccines and other crucial issues. Politico.