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caption: Amanda Bryant, a registered nurse, cares for a critically ill patient in the ICU at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, Ore., Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021. There is no cure for COVID-19. Health care workers work to keep patients alive long enough for the infection to subside and their body can begin to recover.
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Amanda Bryant, a registered nurse, cares for a critically ill patient in the ICU at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, Ore., Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021. There is no cure for COVID-19. Health care workers work to keep patients alive long enough for the infection to subside and their body can begin to recover.
Credit: (Kristyna Wentz-Graff/Pool Photo via AP)

'Take the politics out': Advocates urge CDC to improve public trust

By
With Special Guests
  • Ali Mokdad

The response by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the coronavirus pandemic has sparked confusion and anger among the public.

Last week, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said it’s time for a change.

From faulty Covid test kits and rapidly changing mask recommendations at the start of the pandemic, to confusion about how many vaccine doses make one fully vaccinated, the CDC's communication has been unclear during the pandemic.

The CDC's Director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, recently acknowledged as much when she told her staff that the agency was involved in some dramatic and public mistakes.

"We learned some hard lessons over the last three years, and as part of that, it's my responsibility — it's' the agency's responsibility — to learn from those lessons and do better," Walensky said in an interview with CBS on Aug. 17.

Walensky called for a reorganization of the CDC to better meet the needs of the public during future pandemics. But some of the larger issues facing the agency might be difficult to confront, like the politicization of the CDC, which has operated under both the Trump and Biden administrations during the pandemic.

"It's a decision that has to be made by politicians and officials in the United States, basically, to let CDC do its job," said Dr. Ali Mokdad, Chief Strategy Officer for Population Health at the University of Washington. "CDC is equipped to do a wonderful and amazing job. So take the politics out of CDC and allow CDC the freedom to do what it needs to do."

Mokdad is among many health care professionals who have advocated for the depoliticization of the agency in recent years. Additionally, he said, the CDC should be more transparent with the data it shares with the public.

"For example, the New York Times had to sue CDC in order to get certain data that CDC was collecting and not releasing," Mokdad said. "We owe it to the public, because we spend money on these survey and we are paying for these surveys ... we owe it to the public to maximize the utility of these surveys to their own benefit."

He has also called for other changes to the CDC this year, including making the organization less academic so it can respond to threats faster, trusting the public in official messaging, and supporting local health agencies.

Dr. Mokdad spoke with Soundside about actionable reforms for the CDC and his perspective on the pandemic so far.