One of the first priorities of the next director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is to make sure the scientists, public health experts and staff of the agency are “heard again.”
In an interview Tuesday with the editor of JAMA, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, President-elect Joe Biden’s pick to lead the CDC said she will rely heavily on the nearly 10,000 employees at the giant public health agency, including many she said have not been able to speak out about the Covid-19 pandemic under the Trump administration. Biden will be sworn in as President Wednesday when Walensky will officially take the help of the CDC.
“I think they have been diminished. I think they have been muzzled,” Walensky told Dr. Howard Bauchner, editor of JAMA during the interview, which was live Tuesday afternoon. “Science hasn’t been heard. I have to fix that . . . and make sure those voices get heard again.”
Walensky, who has been the head of Infectious Diseases Division at Massachusetts General Hospital, is a noted HIV researcher and has promised to be a transparent more public face for the CDC, which has been the subject of political interference during the pandemic.
Fortunately, Walensky said the talented staff of the CDC hasn’t fled under four years of the Trump White House. “There hasn’t been a mass exodus,” she said.
Among her charges, she told Bauchner, will to be to upgrade the CDC’s communication, particularly as the Covid-19 vaccines are rolled out to the general public in the U.S.
“As we talk about vaccine hesitancy and anti-vaxxers,” Walensky said the CDC needs to be able to combat that with an effective communication plan.
Walensky said she needs to fix the CDC’s internal and external communications.
“The right information hasn’t been getting out there,” Walensky said. “I want (CDC staff) all to be able to speak. I want to make sure the science is heard. We have to have a social media plan for the agency.”