For the record, Rochelle Valensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will be taking on the job again.
“I’m a doctor, a doctor at heart,” she said on Friday. “And if someone calls you for help, you run.”
One of the most visible faces in the American public health world and frequently criticized for her agency’s response to pandemics and other outbreaks, she now travels with armed security forces. Is. But she’s not shy.
After more than a year and a half as CDC chief, Valensky spoke to a group of reporters outside of Boston about reviewing the agency’s COVID response, the challenges it faces, and what forces are limiting the CDC’s capabilities. keeps doing it. Agile to meet public health emergencies like monkeypox.
The latest mixed message Valensky is putting out comes from the White House. On Sunday, President Biden surprised many when he told Scott Pele on CBS’ 60 Minutes that the pandemic was over – much for doctors and non-doctors alike who are still suffering the effects of Covid on a daily basis. feel. Valensky did not say whether or not he agreed with Biden’s assessment.
“I think there are a lot of different ways to think about the end of a pandemic,” she said. Two years ago, her children stayed home from school and their family wiped out groceries, she said. Now Americans have 600 million vaccines in their arms, and as many are returning to workplaces and classrooms.
“I’m not going to let go of the 350 deaths that we have every day,” she said, but noted that “it’s still less than the 3,000” that happened every day in January 2021. “And so I think we’re in a very different place,” she said. “And we can look at very different metrics when we think about how things are going to be. And yet we do not know what the collapse will bring. We don’t know what winter will bring.”
For immunocompromised people — those awaiting or recently transplanted transplants, cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, those with chronic autoimmune diseases, those who cannot be vaccinated, and more — COVID is still a daily threat. Valensky acknowledged this, saying perhaps a “silver lining” of the pandemic is that it has made Americans more aware of the disproportionate risks and impacts some groups are facing.
“We put a chief health equity officer in every response,” she said. “And yet it is challenging for a respiratory virus, especially Covid. And we can also talk about monkeypox, where we have people who are at risk of infection, no matter the route.
Monkeypox became a public health threat in the United States when the CDC began reducing the number of staff in charge of the COVID response, and the agency is still grappling with some of the same problems that caused the Covid response have slowed down. Delivered, said Valensky. A key issue is infrastructure — states and cities have not spent money to strengthen their public health departments, data systems, and other essential services.
“It waxes and wanes, disaster after disaster,” she said. “I can tell you, the States don’t have money for monkeypox. Duration.”
Despite the huge cash inflow into states and local jurisdictions during the pandemic, there is money that cannot be used to fight monkeypox. Some estimates suggest that the country will need 80,000 additional public health workers to meet the country’s various health needs. Even if states get money to deal with the health crisis, they don’t have enough staff to run things properly.
Valensky defended the CDC’s efforts to collect and disseminate key data on Covid and monkeypox, both the scope and progress of vaccination efforts. He said the CDC, as the country’s top health authority, still does not have the authority to force states to release data. It took more than six weeks for the federal agency to receive data sharing agreements — legal documents that authorize the CDC to collect and publish a number of states — on the monkeypox vaccine from all 50 states. He “wasted time,” said Valensky.
More than half a billion dollars have been allocated at the federal level to modernize the flawed patchwork of data systems used across the country, and yet that money has gone as far as removing information barriers or filling data gaps. Didn’t make a dent.
“When we ask states to compulsorily report us, we have an obligation to give them something back that is useful to them: what’s going on around them?” he said. “What are other jurisdictions looking at? What is happening in their border states? All sorts of things so they are armed with more information and more data. It will be a two-way highway. Which I totally understand. ,
Communication is an area that needs improvement, he acknowledged. It’s being cited as a key area for improvement in the review Valensky requested earlier this year to determine what went wrong in the CDC’s COVID response and how the agency could do better. Many in the public health community have called for a commission with convening powers, like that created after the September 11 attacks, to document failures and prepare for future emergencies. Valensky said he did not know if such a commission would be formed, but that he was focused on applying the criticisms he had heard informally and through internal review.
“I strongly believe that we need to restore and regain confidence,” she said.
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