US not ready for next pandemic, top CDC official warns

US not ready for next pandemic, top CDC official warns

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A top official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reportedly warned that the U.S. is no better off should another pandemic emerge than it was prior to the coronavirus. Dr. Anne Schuchat, the agency’s principal deputy director who will retire this summer, told The Hill that the country’s shortcomings on preparedness are due to inadequate investment in public health infrastructure. 

“I think the critical learning about how to do better next time is the need to greatly invest in public health, and not just respond to emergencies,” Schuchat told the news outlet. “This is a big job, and it can’t be like Ebola or H1N1 where there’s emergency funding and then everything goes away. This needs to be sustained or we will be exactly where we were last year.”

Schuchat’s call to action echoes CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky’s, who has also called for a revamp of the public health infrastructure. Shortly after stepping into her role, Walensky laid out top priorities which included getting the federal government to invest in public health. 

“We need to fix that public health infrastructure and we need resources to do it,” Walensky said during a JAMA livestream event in January. “One of my challenges is to make sure Congress knows and understand that we are in this because we had warning for many, many other public health scares over the last 20 years and we didn’t fix our public health infrastructure and our data infrastructure.” 

The pair testified before Congress last month on the agency’s proposed budget for 2022. During on hearing, Walensky in her opening statement said the pandemic put “a spotlight” on the “fragility of our public health infrastructure.” 

The CDC requested $8.7 billion for its 2022 budget, which would mark the largest increase the agency receives in 20 years. She said Ebola, H1N1, Zika and the opioid crisis demonstrate “that public health emergencies are here to stay.” 

“Long-term investments in flexible infrastructure will save lives and avert economic losses caused by public health emergencies and chronic public health problems,” she said. 

Congress will likely consider the request in the coming months. 

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