Has the U.S. learned enough from the COVID-19 scourge to be in a better position when another pandemic comes along? The second-in-command official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says no.
In an interview with The Hill, Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s principal deputy director, said the U.S. was ill-prepared for COVID-19 due to years of inadequate investment in public health infrastructure. She said the country won’t be ready for a pandemic repeat performance unless it makes funding public health a long-term commitment.
"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 said. "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."
While Schuchat isn’t a household name like Dr. Anthony Fauci, she knows her stuff. When the H1N1 influenza outbreak happened in 2009, she led the federal government's response to the virus and oversaw the distribution of the H1N1 vaccine. Her resume also includes work on a wide number of CDC initiatives ranging from Alzheimer’s to vaping.
A “wake-up call”
On top of a lack of consistent funding, Schuchat said the people in charge of the nation's Strategic National Stockpile were asleep at the wheel and unprepared to handle the sudden surge in demand for personal protective equipment and ventilator supplies. This caused the Trump administration to invoke the Defense Production Act to secure ventilator production from General Motors and other companies.
"It's been a wake-up call," Schuchat said. While such shortages are still a concern, she noted that she’s grateful that Congress is now paying attention to the issue.
"I think that this is one of those big issues that we're already seeing major progress on that we were not ready for," Schuchat said.
Despite the country not being ready for COVID-19, Schuchat thinks the U.S. is in a "good place" right now thanks to the declining numbers for infections, deaths, and hospitalizations. However, it’s important for the country to stay the course when it comes to mitigation efforts.
Schuchat urged Americans to stay vigilant and get vaccinated against the coronavirus. That might be more important now that another strain of COVID-19 is starting to spread throughout the country.