Updated Aug 17, 2022 - Health

CDC admits it failed to meet expectations in COVID response

Rochelle Walensky
Rochelle Walensky. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, outlined a broad plan to overhaul the organization's structure and operations in light of what she said was its failure to respond efficiently to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to media reports.

Why it matters: The changes come after the CDC has faced fierce criticism for its handling of both COVID and the growing monkeypox outbreak.

The big picture: The series of steps to be taken include efforts to better communicate with the public, speed up data releases and produce actionable data, AP reported.

  • The plans include restructuring the CDC's communications office and revamping its websites to make public health guidance clearer and easier to find.
  • The CDC will also add more staff to teams that respond to public health emergencies and require these employees to remain in their positions for at least six months, solving a problem of high turnover that proved confusing and time consuming during the pandemic, per the New York Times.
  • The agency will also alter its promotion system to place less emphasis on the number of published scientific papers an employee has and more on efforts to positively impact public health, the Times reported.

The CDC has long faced criticism for being too academic and producing research that undergoes lengthy review processes that are a mismatch with the urgency of a pandemic, according to the Times.

  • Among the changes announced Wednesday will be an emphasis on putting out preprint scientific reports that circumvent the lengthy peer review process but get out actionable data to the public more quickly, per AP.
  • A new executive council will also be created to help Walensky set priorities and strategies.

Worth noting: Last month the Biden administration announced that it would elevate the Department of Health and Human Services pandemic and disaster response office, that of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, into a new division charged with handling the nation’s response to health emergencies.

  • The move effectively created a new federal agency, known as the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response, on par with the CDC and FDA.

What they're saying: "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," Walensky said in a statement, Politico reported.

  • "As a long-time admirer of this agency and a champion for public health, I want us all to do better," she added.
  • "My goal is a new, public health, action-oriented culture at CDC that emphasizes accountability, collaboration, communication and timeliness," Walensky said, per the Times.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details.

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