HomeHealth Care NewsCDC’s Walensky Calls for Agency Overhaul

CDC’s Walensky Calls for Agency Overhaul

Admitting a bungled response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has called for an overhaul of her agency.

“For 75 years, CDC and public health have been preparing for COVID-19, and in our big moment, our performance did not reliably meet expectations,” said Walensky, on August 17.

Walensky said the agency faces three weaknesses: “unclear communication, a fragmented public health system, and a tendency for public officials to be reactive instead of proactive.”

The CDC should be more action-driven and less focused on providing data for publication, says Walensky, who was appointed to her position by President Joe Biden.

Pandemic Blunders Abound

In its 66-year history, the CDC has handled a number of pandemics, such as the Hong Kong Flu in 1968, SARS-CoV1 in 2002, Swine Flu in 2009, and MERS in 2015, but the agency’s response to COVID-19 did more to infuriate the public than stop the virus.

           Among other failures, the CDC missed entry of the virus into the United States by at least one month. After it acknowledged a case on January 8, 2020, the CDC blocked private labs from deploying a diagnostic test for the virus, and when it took over the effort, delayed getting a working test out the door by as much as six weeks.

The CDC has continuously changed its guidance on masking, social distancing, and lockdowns. It withheld critical information about the virus, kept changing guidance on whether the virus was spread by droplets or aerosols, and was caught conferring with a teachers union on reopening schools.

The CDC banned rental evictions and ordered masks on airplanes and public transportation.  Federal courts put an end to those actions.

The agency has also been criticized for going beyond its scope of “disease control and prevention” by diving into ideological issues such as obesity shaming, “health equity,” climate change, and promoting gender confusion among teens (see related article).

‘First Step, Walk it Back’

The CDC has plenty of problems to fix, but becoming less “fragmented” and producing data more “proactively” are not two of them, Marilyn Singleton, M.D., J.D., author of  “COVID-19:  A Weapon to Fundamentally Transform America,” a policy paper published by the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, told The Heartland Daily Podcast, on August 22.

“First, it needs an independent external review to see how the public health agency should actually work,” said Singleton. “When you look at the CDC’s history, when it started in 1946, it was a center for communicable diseases, and that might be the first step. Walk it back to communicable diseases, period, end of story.”

Despite the Evidence

Walensky overlooks two of her agency’s most serious flaws: setting policies without first collecting evidence of their benefits and risks, and exceeding its statutory authority, says Doug Badger, of The Heritage Foundation.

“The CDC backed extended school closures, despite the infinitesimal risk of severe illness to children and the obvious harm the policy inflicted on them,” said Badger. “It was the only public health agency in the world that recommended—and still recommends—masking two-year-olds.”

The CDC has not followed the science, says Badger.

“It continues to advocate for school mask mandates in counties with high levels of community infection, despite the evidence that they do not reduce pediatric transmission,” said Badger. “The CDC never did randomized controlled trials to determine the effectiveness of any of its nonpharmaceutical interventions, from distancing to masking to vaccine mandates to public transportation mask mandates.”

The CDC also suffers from overstepping its authority as it did with the eviction moratorium and public transportation mask mandates, says Badger.

“CDC has only the power that Congress grants it in statute,” said Badger. “The agency must learn its legal boundaries and dedicate itself to operating inside them.”

New Federalism Needed

The constitutional distinction between state and federal powers is also an issue, says Badger, who coauthored a policy paper, “COVID-19 and Federalism:  Public Officials’ Accountability and Comparative Performance,” published by Heritage in 2021.

“States have police power; CDC does not,” said Badger. “There is no centralized federal public health agency with the authority to dictate policy nationally. To complain about a ‘fragmented public health system’ is to miss that point entirely. State and local agencies are not subservient to the CDC. Rather, the federal agency exists to serve state and local agencies by providing them with accurate and actionable data and recommendations that they use to inform their policy decisions.”

Pandemic Politics Played

Walensky is correct that unclear communication is also a problem at the CDC, but more than procedural flaws, it is likely the result of politics, says Badger.

     “For example, the influence teachers’ unions exerted on agency guidance about extended school closures—and by issuing pronouncements in the name of science without doing the hard work of determining their scientific validity,” said Badger. “Walensky is right to criticize her agency, but her diagnosis and treatment plan are deeply flawed.”

 It was evident politics played a role in the pandemic when, under President Trump, Kamala Harris said she didn’t trust the COVID-19 shots but had a change of heart when Joe Biden became president, says Singleton.

“It was not as though Trump was in a lab coat, making the vaccine, so you can see the whole thing became political, to be used in an election period,” said Singleton.

 

AnneMarie Schieber (amschieber@heartland.org) is the managing editor of Health Care News.

 

 

 

 

 

 

AnneMarie Schieber
AnneMarie Schieber
AnneMarie Schieber is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Health Care News, Heartland's monthly newspaper for health care reform.

2 COMMENTS

  1. A complete waste of time and money as long as big pharma has ANY connections (known or hidden) to the “revamped” CDC. After 75 years, the CDC has proved it is worthless beyond any reasonable doubts. Where is the honest proof that their actions have saved any lives?

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