Time to Kick the CDC Out of Washington

Time to Kick the CDC Out of Washington

https://www.medpagetoday.com/opinion/fromtheeditors/97093

Return COVID briefings to where they began, with the career scientists at Atlanta headquarters

Although the CDC was included on the White House COVID Response Team to bolster the scientific credibility, it ended up being at the expense of its own.

CDC and its director, Rochelle Walensky, MD, need to reclaim their independence and return to Atlanta. Let the White House continue to tout its pandemic accomplishments, and return the COVID briefings to where they started, conducted by career scientists at CDC headquarters.

The agency’s presence in Washington has hindered, not helped, its reputation. Rather than effectively and expertly managing the crisis, the White House COVID Response Team’s uneasy marriage of politics and public health has instead fueled distrust of public health guidelines. And this unbalanced partnership has tainted the formerly apolitical health agency.

Leaving the White House COVID Response Team would disentangle the CDC from this politically charged arrangement, and empower it to manage this public health crisis as they’ve managed every prior public health crisis, from 2009’s H1N1 swine flu pandemic to 2014’s Ebola outbreak.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, it looked like the CDC would once again be leading the country through another public health crisis, with regular briefings on the situation. However, these were discontinued after CDC’s former director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, Nancy Messonnier, MD, told reporters at a press briefing on Feb. 25, 2020 that “disruption to everyday life may be severe” from this “novel coronavirus” in the U.S.

Shortly thereafter, the “White House COVID Task Force” was born under the Trump administration. COVID briefings were no longer handled by the federal public health agency, but by a handful of politicians and federal agency heads.

Including CDC in the White House COVID briefings has muddied its messaging with that of the White House, and led to some uncomfortable moments for Walensky, as well as a dramatic decline in public trust of the agency. Returning the COVID briefings to the CDC would help to rebuild some broken trust with the public.

Unmooring the CDC from the White House sends the message that the pandemic is not over, and the nation’s public health agency is focusing their attention on ending it, rather than endorsing whatever the White House says. Separate COVID briefings also might help Walensky to clarify and strengthen her messaging, rather than acting as window dressing in a politically charged venue.

If the CDC held its own briefings, it also might encourage a more active role for HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, who has been practically invisible during the pandemic with the White House running the show. The Association of Health Care Journalists recently penned a letter to Becerra, asking him to hold a press conference open to all reporters for general questions, arguing it would reflect “the promise of government transparency” from this administration.

The White House COVID Response Team should retain some scientific voice in the form of Anthony Fauci, MD, the chief medical adviser to the president. Fauci should return to what he does best: explaining the science behind the latest COVID vaccines and treatments, while leaving the cable network and political show appearances to Walensky or other CDC officials so they can reiterate the public health messages without being so heavily entangled in White House messaging.

The CDC must return to Atlanta to resume the role it was always meant to play: an apolitical arbiter of public health decisions and an advisor to the White House, not its yes-man. Mixing the two together has left a political stench on the agency’s credibility. The time has come to dissolve this doomed marriage of convenience.

Rachel Warren, SVP, Editorial

Ian Ingram, Managing Editor

Molly Walker, Deputy Managing Editor

Kristina Fiore, Director, Enterprise & Investigative Reporting

Joyce Frieden, Washington Editor

One Response

  1. Fauxi and his wife should go to prison. No pensions.

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