Deputy CDC Director Says USA Not Ready for Next Pandemic
Anne Schuchat, the principal deputy director at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, issued a stark warning this week that the United States is ill-equipped and underprepared for the next pandemic because of its lackluster investments in public health initiatives.
“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. 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 said on Wednesday in an exclusive interview with The Hill.
Schuchat said that the Strategic National Stockpile‘s inventory of emergency medical supplies such as personal protective equipment, face masks, and ventilators proved to be woefully inadequate for the scope of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed the lives of more than 600,000 Americans.
“It’s been a wakeup call,” she told The Hill.
But Schuchat stressed that the lessons gleaned from the coronavirus crisis have nonetheless spurred progress among lawmakers who hope to mitigate future disasters.
“I think that this is one of those big issues that we’re already seeing major progress on that we were not ready for,” she said.
Former President Donald Trump’s baffling aversion to science and constant snubbing of the advice of experts “was a whole other level of pressure” that undoubtedly made matters worse, Schuchat added.
The more coordinated, science-based and learning or response you have, you know, a response that’s committed to continual improvement, the more effective the prevention will be. And so a fragmented response or one that isn’t well coordinated is likely to be less effective,” the CDC’s number two said.
She also lamented the politicization of public health programs.
“It was going to be a very difficult pandemic regardless of the cultural or political or social issues,” Schuchat said.
“Politicization has not helped, and, you know, there have been times where I’ve been so grateful of solidarity and the community that I’ve seen in people coming together, and there have been times I’ve been very disappointed in, really, the politicization of the efforts that potentially made things worse,” she added.
For now, Schuchat emphasized that vaccinations must continue to be the nation’s top priority.
“The more of us that are vaccinated, the less likely the variants are to win,” she said. “And you know, around the world, there’s a lot of places where the variants are winning. So we have pretty much all of those scary variants here in the U.S. but in low numbers.”