Michael Osterholm

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Dr. Michael Osterholm is the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Following the 2020 presidential election, he was tapped by then-President-elect Joe Biden to be a member of his 2020 COVID-19 Transition Advisory Board.


Osterholm has worked on the National Science Advisory Board on Biosecurity and was special advisor to Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson in the George W. Bush administration. A member of the National Academy of Medicine, Osterholm is also author of Living Terrors: What America Needs to Know to Survive the Coming Bioterrorist Catastrophe and co-author of Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs. He also hosts a podcast called the Osterholm Update. 1


In April 2022, Florida federal Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle struck down the Centers for Disease Control’s COVID-19 policy mandating the wearing of masks on all public transportation, including air travel. In an April 24, 2022 interview with ABC News, Osterholm questioned the judge’s decision, and the effect it might have on the CDC’s future authority. In the same interview, Osterholm also stated that cloth and surgical masks were ineffective in preventing transmission of COVID-19, likening them to a “condom with a hundred holes in it,” and suggesting the use of N-95 respirators instead. He also referred to the debate surrounding mask mandates as a “political issue not a science issue,” saying, “the U.S. public is done with the pandemic…you can’t swim against a tide of this magnitude.” 2

In January 2022, Osterholm and Center for American Progress fellow Ezekiel Emanuel co-authored an opinion piece for the New York Times criticizing China’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Published ahead of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, the article took issue with China’s “Zero-COVID” lockdown policy, calling it “unattainable,” and a set-up for disaster in light of the Omicron variant of COVID-19. The article went on to call Chinese-produced vaccines “ineffective” and predicted an overburdening of the Chinese medical system followed by economic devastation in which other countries would be hesitant to do business with a COVID-ravaged China. The article also criticized the lockdowns of Xi’an and Tianjin and made reference to the fact that 95% of Omicron-positive cases in the latter city occurred in patients who had received Chinese vaccines. Osterholm and Emanuel went on to suggest using European countries like Denmark as models, with more effective vaccines and targeted lockdowns that allowed those countries to “build up immunity” to COVID-19. 3

Osterholm was a signatory of a November 2021 open letter calling for employer enforcement of vaccine mandates. The statement, signed by dozens of health organizations, including the American Medical Association, and more than 30 individual physicians and scientists, called for vaccinating an additional 80 million persons. 4

In March 2022, Osterholm co-authored an article warning against the “looming threat” of a Russian biological or chemical attack against the United States or Ukraine. The authors speculated that Russia has the capability to weaponize and unleash a variety of bioagents that included anthrax, Marburg virus, plague, and smallpox. The authors went on to link Putin to the 2006 polonium-based assassination of dissident Alexander Litvinenko, and suggested that Bashar Al-Assad’s 2013 use of chemical weapons against the Syrian populace was done with Putin’s “tacit approval.” Possible scenarios envisioned by the authors included sarin gas attacks, an anthrax-laced drone strike, or an unknown, newly-developed viral agent. The authors went on to advise NATO to draw a “red line” on the use of biological or chemical attacks, and to draw up plans for an appropriate response to any Russian violation of that policy in Ukraine or against NATO allies. 5


  1.  “Michael T. Osterholm, PHD MPH.” CIDRAP. Accessed June 13, 2022.
  2. “’This Week’ Transcript 4-24-22.” ABC News. April 24, 2022. Accessed June 13, 2022.
  3.  Osterholm, Michael and Emanuel, Ezekiel J. “China’s ‘Zero-Covid’ Policy is a Pandemic Waiting to Happen.” New York Times. January 25, 2022. Accessed June 13, 2022.
  4. “AMA Joins Health Care Experts in Supporting OSHA COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates.” AMA. November 18, 2021. Accessed June 13, 2022.
  5. Osterholm, Michael and Olshaker, Mark. “Preparing for the Unthinkable in Ukraine.” Foreign Affairs. March 25, 2022. Accessed June 13, 2022.
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