Mike Pence speaks at a White House press conference on February 29, 2020 (Alex Wong/Getty)
Mike Pence has defended his role in the HIV outbreak that occurred under his watch as Indiana governor, saying that he is “proud” of the work he did.
In 2014-15 the state of Indiana experienced “the largest concentrated outbreak of HIV ever documented in the United States.” Most the cases were linked to drug use, specifically the injection of prescription opioids.
At the time there was a ban on needle exchanges throughout the state, despite such programmes being a proven method of HIV prevention. Before the crisis broke, Pence was a fervent critic of needle exchanges, and continued to oppose them for months after the crisis emerged.
He waited until the end of March 2015 before announcing a state of emergency and agreeing to “make an exception to my long-standing opposition to needle-exchange programs”.
At a White House press conference on Saturday, a journalist asked Trump: “What guarantee can you give Americans, that political considerations and ideological issues will play no role in your government’s response to this virus?”
As the question was raised, Pence could be seen shaking his head in apparent disapproval in the background.
Trump replied that Pence “has done a phenomenal job on healthcare – one of the best, if not the best, in the country,” before allowing the vice president to respond.
In his answer Pence significantly downplayed his role in the outbreak, focusing on “the extraordinary capabilities of [the] CDC” and “the invaluable role that local health officials play in dealing with the spread of infectious diseases.”
“The truth was HIV/AIDS was being spread by people sharing needles and intravenous drug use, and the state of Indiana did not allow for providing a needle exchange to citizens,” he claimed.
He said that when the CDC made a recommendation, he made it possible for the needle exchange program to happen for 30 days after declaring a medical emergency.
He continued: “I’m proud to say that every one of those patients was treated, [and] we ended the spread of the HIV/AIDS virus… And I’m proud of the work that we did in the state of Indiana, and I hope to continue to bring all of the best minds together to deal with this issue.”
Trump interjected to say that Pence is “doing a great job” and that was a “great answer” to the question.