The director of America’s largest public health agency has admitted that the organization has made some “pretty dramatic, pretty public mistakes” in handling the Covid-19 pandemic and unveiled changes to personnel and policies designed to improve its response to emergencies.
Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Wednesday that the planned reforms would improve accountability and “timely response” at the agency charged with protecting Americans from disease and other public health threats.
The CDC’s handling of the pandemic has come under sharp criticism from some health experts who say it has become overly politicized and failed to collect crucial data needed to slow the spread of Covid or encourage rapid testing.
More recently, critics have raised concerns about the agency’s slow initial response to the spread of monkeypox, which was declared a public health emergency in the US this month.
“For 75 years, the CDC and public health have been preparing for Covid-19, and at our big moment, our performance fell reliably short of expectations,” Walenski said in a statement.
“I want us all to do better, and it starts with CDC’s leadership.” My goal is a new, public health-oriented culture at CDC that emphasizes accountability, collaboration, communication and timeliness.”
The proposed reforms follow a review of CDC operations ordered by Walensky in April, which found that traditional scientific and communication processes were inadequate for an effective response to the Covid crisis.
“We certainly have a fragile public health infrastructure within the agency and across the country to deal with what we encountered,” the CDC said.
In a video sent to CDC staff Wednesday morning, Walensky, who was appointed by President Joe Biden, explained the reasons for the shakeup, telling them the agency had made some “pretty dramatic, pretty public mistakes,” according to a person briefed on the matter. the video.
The CDC selected Mary Wakefield, former acting deputy secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services in the Obama administration, to lead a team to implement the reform program. It would create an executive board to set the agency’s priorities, track progress and coordinate budget decisions with an emphasis on public health impact.
It will also create a one-stop shop for external partners to interact with the agency, according to the outline of the plan.
Critics of the agency’s performance during the pandemic welcomed the reforms, saying the CDC needed a reboot.
“The CDC is in desperate need of a shakeup for not following science and evidence [during the pandemic],” said Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute.
He pointed to the CDC’s guidelines for a five-day isolation policy without rapid testing and the definition of two-dose vaccines as “fully vaccinated” as missteps. The agency is “directly responsible” for low uptake of booster vaccines in the US by ignoring evidence of waning immunity for more than a year, Topol said.
Amesh Adalya, an infectious disease expert at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said the overhaul was a significant admission that the CDC’s work had failed when it was most needed.
“To me, the CDC is a sacred place, a place where infectious disease giants once roamed, and to see it in its current status, held captive and ‘managed’ by politicians in Washington, literally disgusts me,” he said.
“As part of this reconfiguration, the CDC must become more independent of the political process and its inherent tribalism and actually return to its primary function of skillfully and competently managing infectious diseases.”