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Dr. Robert Redfield warns of ‘scientific arrogance

Dr. Robert Redfield Speaking
Thought Leader: Robert Redfield
June 3, 2024

The coronavirus pandemic was just a dress rehearsal. Something bigger is coming, according to the former head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Robert Redfield.

“It’s not a question of if; it’s a question of when,” said Dr. Robert Redfield, a parishioner of the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Homeland who led the CDC from 2018 to 2021 and now is a disease and internal medicine physician at Greater Baltimore Medical Center in Towson.

“The greatest national security threat to the U.S. is not China, not Russia, not North Korea and not Iran – it’s biosecurity,” he said.

Redfield believes the American government needs to do more to be prepared. The country should build a biosecurity program parallel to its defense program, complete with antivirals, vaccines, diagnostics and medical devices, he said.

“I’m not trying to scare people, I am telling the truth,” Redfield said. “God doesn’t motivate us by fear. With God all things are possible, so I’m not afraid.”

Redfield made his comments April 29 at the Cathedral Colloquium, held at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen. He and his wife, Joyce, have been active parishioners at the cathedral for decades. They have six children and 12 grandchildren.

Redfield, who holds the hotly debated position that the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 likely escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan, China, blamed hubris for the coronavirus pandemic and other dangers that could lie ahead.

“When I say the great pandemic is coming, I think it’s coming,” he said. “And it’s coming for unfortunately the same stupid reason: scientific arrogance of individual scientists who are playing around with this. And it goes back to that idea of science and God. Because there are some scientists who think they’re equivalent.”

According to Redfield, COVID is still the third-leading cause of death in the United States, and approximately 150 to 250 people a day are still dying from COVID.

“All COVID deaths in 2024 are preventable,” he said.

Calling vaccines “the greatest gift of science and modern medicine,” Redfield has tried to combat vaccine hesitancy. But, he said, it is not helpful to mandate vaccines since it can have the unintended consequence of increasing hesitancy.

Today, Redfield concentrates his efforts on patients with long-COVID, and he estimates there are approximately 15 million Americans who suffer from long-COVID. Symptoms are different in every patient, and can include extreme fatigue, brain fog, muscle aches and shortness of breath.

“All my patients will get better, but it just takes time,” he said.

A scientist’s journey of faith

It was his scientific work that ultimately connected Redfield more deeply to his Catholic faith.

After serving for 23 years in the U.S. Army, with part of that time as a doctor at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Redfield retired as a colonel in 1996 and co-founded the University of Maryland’s Institute of Human Virology in Baltimore.

During the HIV/AIDS crisis, through his research at Walter Reed, Redfield was the first to establish that the disease was not limited to gay men.

He befriended New York Cardinal John O’Connor, which in turn led him to meet St. Pope John Paul II.

“Pope John Paul was my private tutor to get me back to my faith,” said Redfield, who has also collaborated with Baltimore-based Catholic Relief Services in its outreach to Haiti and provided expert guidance to reopen the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s Catholic school system for in-person learning during the coronavirus pandemic at a time when other school systems maintained remote-only learning.

Redfield was invited to Pope John Paul II’s conference on AIDS in 1989 with a group of scientists and theologians. He was the only scientist asked to meet with the pope.

“The pope taught me three things. He said, ‘You have it all wrong,’ ” Redfield recalled. “ ‘God is not an energy force. He’s a real person. You need to develop a personal relationship with God.’ The second thing the pope said was that ‘prayer is the most powerful tool you have, and you need to know how to use it.’ ”

The third thing the pope taught him was a little harder for Redfield to accept, but he eventually did while working with AIDS patients: “There is redemptive value in human suffering.”

Redfield accompanied Pope John Paul II to Lourdes, France, in 1992 for the World Day of the Sick. According to Redfield, he was the only non-ordained person on the plane. He spent a week there and saw thousands accepting their illnesses.

He credits meeting the pope with changing his life. “I was a whole new person,” he said. “The next morning, I woke up and went to Mass.”

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