Shoving the CDC Aside
Recently, there’s been some strange things going on — or not going on — at the US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, the CDC in the normal shorthand. For people who have worked with the CDC for years, we have gotten used to the completeness of their guidelines down to very specific details on all sorts of public health issues. These were usually delivered in a written and graphic undertone of science, but science that one could trust because of the care CDC staff to ascertain what was the best approach given the data and understanding available.
More recently, the CDC has shifted its tone and acted in unexpected ways. For example, the agency published school reopening guidelines that were so different than previous issuances that major news outlets took notice. The New York Times noted on July 24 that the public health agency’s guidelines were a “full-throated call to reopen schools” while the agency downplayed the potential health risks. This change was a week after the Washington Post noted that not only was coronavirus data being “funneled away from CDC” but that data on 3,000 hospitals, or 60 percent of those in the US, disappeared from its website.
Turning to the frantic efforts to create a new coronavirus vaccine, normally CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices would provide recommendations for how to prioritize vaccine implementation. At the moment, the agency is maintaining radio silence on the methods and priorities of distributing a COVID-19 vaccine — quite different from the leading role it played in 2009 for distributing H1N1 vaccines. According to The Atlantic, not only has the CDC committee been ignored and perhaps sidelined, the National Academy of Medicine is convening a panel on the same topic.
The track record of the Trump administration offers little comfort in terms of basing its programmatic approach on science or solid policy experience. Sidelining and silencing the CDC may get those pesky eggheads out of the way for a re-election bid, but they are the real experts. We should be following their guidance — and they should be allowed to give it.