May 17, 2020 - Health

Gottlieb defends CDC on testing after criticism from Peter Navarro

Former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb defended the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's early efforts to develop a coronavirus test on CBS News' "Face the Nation" on Sunday, rebutting claims by White House economic adviser Peter Navarro that the agency "let the country down."

What he's saying: "Even if the CDC had rolled out that test perfectly, there still wouldn't have been enough testing in place in the nation to do what we call 'sentinel surveillance' to try to detect this virus earlier," Gottlieb said.

  • Gottlieb, who has become a trusted voice on coronavirus commentary outside the Trump administration, argued that Department of Health and Human Services leadership should have picked up the phone in January or early February to engage large private labs.
  • "If they had asked the CEOs to do that, I'm willing to bet that they would have done it and you would have gotten the big labs in the game. That's what needed to happen."

The backdrop: Navarro's criticisms of the CDC referred to early coronavirus tests that didn't always work, resulting in delays in the country's ability to ramp up capacity. Manufacturing of the testing devices had to be relocated after multiple kits in an Atlanta research lab were possibly contaminated.

  • HHS Secretary Alex Azar echoed Gottlieb's defense of the CDC as well, saying on "Face the Nation" that the agency "was never going to be the backbone of broad testing in the United States. That depends on companies like Abbott and Roche."
  • "I don't believe the CDC let this country down," Azar said.

Yes, but: Gottlieb argued that one area in which the CDC could improve is by releasing more information about the clinical experiences of coronavirus patients.

  • "We haven't seen a really definitive, systematic accounting of the collective clinical experience with those patients and their outcomes and what interventions were used on them. This is what the CDC does," he said.
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