The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has acknowledged flaws in its response to the Covid-19 pandemic and announced plans to restructure the agency to rehabilitate its public image and better respond to future public health crises.
“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,” CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said on Wednesday. “As a long-time admirer of this agency and a champion for public health, I want us all to do better.”
The overhaul announcement follows an internal review that found the CDC’s “rigid, compartmentalized bureaucracy” undermined its response to Covid-19 and slowed its data analysis and releases of public advisories. When pandemic guidance was offered, it was often “confusing and overwhelming,” the review found.
The US leads the world in Covid-19 cases and deaths, by far, and the CDC has been criticized for confusing messaging and slow response times. The agency also held back much of the data it collected, in some cases because it feared the information could be “misinterpreted.” For instance, it withheld data on Covid-19 infections among fully vaccinated Americans and the efficacy of vaccine booster shots for 18- to 49-year-olds.
“Our public health infrastructure in the country was not up to the task of handling this pandemic,” Walensky toldCBS News on Wednesday. She added, “We learned some hard lessons over the last three years, and as part of that, it’s my responsibility, it’s the agency’s responsibility, to learn from those lessons and do better.”
The CDC also has drawn criticism for its handling of the monkeypox outbreak. The reorganization plan, which will require approval from higher-ups in President Joe Biden’s administration, aims to get information to the public more quickly and speak about health issues in plain English, rather than scientific jargon.
Walensky also plans to make the CDC more streamlined, with fewer reporting layers, and to develop a nimbler workforce that is prepared to respond to crises. “We need to have special forces, if you will, to deploy during pandemic times,” she said.
Plans also call for creating a new office to promote “equity in health care,” though Walensky didn’t clarify how that would improve pandemic response.