WASHINGTON — Over the last two years, you have heard a lot about the Centers for Disease Control, the nation’s top authority on diseases and outbreaks. However, you have also likely heard a lot of controversy regarding the agency during both the Trump and Biden administrations.
“It’s just incorrect information,” former President Donald Trump said about guidance provided from the CDC in September of 2020.
“I think it’s important to clarify,” former CDC director Robert Redfield said during a White House briefing in April of 2020, following confusion over recent comments.
At one point this year, the American Medical Association sent out this press release saying that CDC “guidance is confusing.” While the CDC has been instrumental in increasing testing and administering vaccines, the agency has lost some public trust along the way.
According to recent polls, before the pandemic, 69% of Americans believed what they heard from the CDC. Now that has fallen to 44%.
Recently the CDC acknowledged change is needed. On April 11th, the CDC began a one-month structural review to see what can be done differently.
Jim Macrae, who previously held senior roles in public health for the federal government, is leading the effort. It will conclude early next month and that’s when the CDC will begin to consider implementing changes to how the agency operates.
SUGGESTIONS FOR CHANGE
“I spent a lot of my career working for the CDC,” said Dr. Jon Andrus, a leading researcher and epidemiologist with George Washington University and the University of Colorado.
Andrus says one of the most needed changes is figuring out a way to make public health less political. For instance, should the CDC director stop being in a politically-appointed position?
“CDC should be protected as a scientific agency so science is not politicized,” Andrus said.
Another suggested change? Figure out a way to get local health departments to listen more closely to what the CDC advises. The pandemic showed how powerful local public health agencies are and how some are willing to ignore suggested guidance.
“It’s not enough for an expert to stand up and say this is what needs to be done,” Andrus said about the need for improvements to how the agency communicates.
Until then, the agency remains extremely influential over all of our lives. Masks are required on airplanes and trains until May 3rd at least, because of the CDC’s guidance.