More than 1,000 current and former officials in an elite disease control program at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have signed an open letter expressing their dismay at the country’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic Expressing public health and encouraging federal authorities to do so play a more central role.
“The lack of national leadership on Covid-19 is unprecedented and dangerous,” reads the letter signed by current and former CDC Epidemic Intelligence Service officials from outbreak investigators. “CDC should be at the forefront of a successful response to this global public health emergency.”
The signatories included two former CDC directors: Jeffrey Koplan, who led the agency under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and Tom Frieden, who served under President Barack Obama.
All of the signatories wrote to “express our concern about the threatening politicization and shutdown of the country̵
“Today, as every day in its 74-year history, the CDC has provided the American public with the best information and advice available,” the agency said in a response to the letter. “As of January, more than 5,200 CDC employees have dedicated themselves to protecting the health of the American people.”
Long regarded as the world’s leading public health agency, the CDC typically plays a leading role in epidemic response worldwide.
The Trump administration was at times instrumental in drafting scientific recommendations at the CDC during the pandemic and objecting to guidelines on reopening churches and schools and on the wearing of masks, the Wall Street Journal reported. A government spokesman said the president had instructed the White House coronavirus task force to ensure that communications from administrative officials are “checked for accuracy, effectiveness and safety to protect public health.”
Confidence in the agency has waned, according to a recent survey. Former agency officials and other health professionals have spoken out in favor of the CDC’s defense, arguing that it must resume its leadership and science-based role in fighting the country’s pandemic.
The so-called EIS is a two-year scholarship at the CDC, in which officials on the front lines fight against outbreaks like Ebola, E. coli and other dangerous pathogens.
The letter was “an expression of solidarity in our community,” said Charles Rabkin, a medical epidemiologist at the National Cancer Institute and member of the 1984 EIS class. He said he spent several months contacting each EIS class, which spanned almost seven decades. Collect signatures for the letter.
The 1,044 who signed the letter made up more than 25% of current and former EIS first class officers in 1951, he said. This includes current CDC staff who either work now as EIS officials or as members of classes from the 1980s, he said.
Douglas Hamilton, a member of the 1991 EIS class, said he signed the letter because he was concerned about protecting the CDC’s scientific credibility. “We have seen CDC recommendations massively rotated or even rewritten,” said Dr. Hamilton, who left the CDC earlier this year.
The CDC’s recommendations and leadership are critical to helping often underfunded state and local health departments respond effectively to a pandemic, said Jeanette Stehr-Green, a public health advisor in Port Angeles, Washington, who signed the letter .
Dr. Stehr-Green, a member of the 1984 EIS class, said her team of 40 volunteer contact tracers were confused about who to test for Covid-19 after the CDC voted back its recommendations on who to test in August Those who had no symptoms did not need to be tested, even if they came into contact with a case.
After discussing the matter, the team decided to continue testing, said Dr. Stehr Green. The CDC later reversed course, now saying that asymptomatic contacts should be tested.
“A number of such steps have prevented us from doing the best job possible,” said Dr. Stehr-Green, who has worked for the CDC as well as state and local health departments. “The CDC wrote the book on Preparing for and Responding to Epidemics. Their expertise has been ignored to the detriment of all of us. “
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