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CDC Director Rochelle Walensky acknowledged on Tuesday that the nation's leading public health agency fell short in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, outlining sweeping changes that will make the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention better positioned to respond to emerging health threats in the future.
Walensky last week announced an organizational “reset” for the organization, outlining several changes she plans to implement in the coming years to rectify the CDC's “numerous” failures throughout the COVID pandemic.
In an appearance on “Your World” Tuesday, Walensky told host Neil Cavuto that she felt a “reset” was necessary after the agency “didn't reliably deliver” during the 2-plus years of the pandemic.
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“We’ve been preparing for public health at the CDC and across the nation, frankly, for a pandemic, for something the size and scope of COVID-19. And the reality is that in 2020, when we had a pandemic of that size and scope, we didn’t reliably deliver,” she said. “And I think my job as the leader of this agency is to go back, look back, see where we didn’t and see where we can improve.”
Walensky said her goal is to restore a “new, public health action-oriented culture at CDC that emphasizes accountability, collaboration, communication, and timeliness.”
The changes will include internal staffing moves and steps to speed up data releases, as well as a restructuring of the agency's communications office and revamping its website to make public health guidance easier to find and increasing the use of preprint scientific reports to get actionable data out quicker, she said.
“Our processes, our structures, our policies were not nimble enough to allow 25% of our workforce to actively deploy in the time of emergency, so we have to look at our systems and policies so if we need to do that again, we’re very fluid in mobility,” Walensky told Cavuto.
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Asked whether her perspective on lockdowns shifted in light of the agency's newfound self-reflection, Walensky said pointedly, “I don't necessarily want to revisit the question of lockdowns that predated me.”
“But,” she continued. “What I will say is we have updated our guidance in the context of new information, and sometimes we have to make a decision before we have all of the information that we want. [As] I said to our agency, ‘not making a decision is the decision in and of itself.’”
Turning the discussion to the vaccine, Cavuto asked Walensky whether she thinks fewer Americans would have gotten vaccinated had they known it was “a silver bullet” that would prevent future infections. The host revealed that while he was personally vaccinated, he contracted the virus a second time and ended up in the intensive care unit.
Walensky conceded that the public conversation surrounding vaccinations and immunity is “another situation where we learned a lot.”
The vaccine worked “quite well” initially against infection, severe disease and death in the initial SARS-COV-2 strain of the virus, Walensky said.
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“Then we had alpha. It also worked really well against alpha infection. Both to prevent infection and then severe disease and death. Where we learned along the way is when delta came along last summer,” she explained. “It really didn’t work as well against infections, severe disease and death. And when we learned that, we told the American people that. That is when we put our masks back on for those vaccinated. So it is not only the case that we were learning scientifically more, but in fact the virus was also evolving and changing over time. It’s our responsibility as we learn that science to deliver it to the American people.”
The CDC has a $12 billion budget and more than 11,000 employees. Walensky became director of the agency in January 2021.
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