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Rochelle Walensky Gets an Intervention

Senior Executive Service steps into the CDC leadership vacuum, BARDA grows up

Per Wikipedia- Rochelle Paula Walensky (née Bersoff; born April 5, 1969) is an American physician-scientist who is the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the administrator of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.[1] Prior to her appointment at the CDC, she was the Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. Walensky is an expert on HIV/AIDS.

<actually, she is not really a scientist. She is an MD with a masters degree in public health or MPH. Not trained as a scientist, in case you were wondering>

First a reality check. Has CDC done a good job in messaging regarding public health? Here is an article from Business Insider (an amazing misnomer) published three days ago, which is generally an unfailing supporter of the current executive branch administration.

42% of Americans think monkeypox is at least as large a public health threat as COVID-19 now: poll” (!!!)

  • New polling from YouGov shows that only 1 in 3 Americans consider COVID-19 a bigger threat than monkeypox.
  • Most Americans believe COVID-19 and monkeypox are now equal threats. COVID continues to kill hundreds daily.
  • A minority of respondents said the country is “very prepared” or “somewhat prepared” for another pandemic.

Only 1 in 3 Americans consider COVID-19 — a disease that continues to kill hundreds of people each day in the United States — a bigger threat than monkeypox, which has so far infected relatively few and killed none, according to a new YouGov poll.

The rest of Americans consider the two diseases to be equal threats (33%), no threat at all (18%), or aren’t sure (10%), while 9% of respondents consider monkeypox a greater threat than COVID-19.

The poll, which was conducted over the internet between August 4 and 7, revealed that Black respondents were much more likely to view the two viruses as equal threats — 55% did — while 25% of white respondents believed them to be equal threats.

I suggest that the answer to the hypothetical question of whether CDC is doing a good job communicating issues relating to public health with the American public is self evident.

Real Clear Politics from two days ago:

Top Doc Slams CDC for Not Researching Kids’ Heart Injuries

“The fact the US, CDC, NIAID, FDA, etc etc. have to rely on a Thailand preprint for the first prospective study of cardiac biomarkers is mind-boggling negligence. The US and this CDC have shown that either they are incompetent to take safety signals seriously, or indifferent to safety. They earn Grade F. This study should have been done in the USA, by Pfizer 1 month after EUA was granted. End of story,”

Americans Reflect on Nation’s COVID-19 Response

Fewer than half say the country has given the right amount of priority to the needs of K-12 students, public health, quality of life

“As levels of public concern over the coronavirus outbreak recede, Americans offer a lackluster evaluation of how the country has balanced priorities during the outbreak. A majority of U.S. adults say the country has given too little priority to meeting the educational needs of K-12 students since the outbreak first took hold in February 2020. Assessments of the nation’s response across other domains are little better: Fewer than half of Americans say the country has done about the right amount to support quality of life and economic activity or to protect public health.”

We could go on and on. I think that all can see that US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (and in particular, the current Director (former Harvard Med Professor) Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH) has failed to meet expectations during two “Public health emergencies” in a row (COVIDcrisis and Monkeypox containment) and has become a political liability. So President Biden promptly stepped in to remove and replace her with a more experienced and competent Director, right? Not so much. It appears that the Administrative State (Senior Executive Service) had to do an intervention, and that rather than the (logical) termination of an arrogant and entitled academic who has failed to provide effective leadership through two declared Public Health Emergencies, Professor Walensky has been kneecapped, given the bureaucratic equivalent of training wheels but is likely to continue her new career as a broadcast celebrity on CNN and MSNBC. Her future job awaits, it would seem, and Dr. Sanjay Gupta should be looking over his shoulder.

In the meantime, what are Dr. Walensky’s prescriptions for curing the CDC of its ailments? More power and more money.

CDC’s Ludicrous Makeover

BY HARVEY RISCH

The CDC’s announcement covers everything except the fundamental problem to which the director and the external reviewer are blind: industry subservience and epidemiologic incompetence.

CDC has published numbers of fatally flawed study reports over the last two years in MMWR, its captive journal.  No amounts of “moving faster” will fix this problem.  It took CDC two years to figure out that the vaccines are not an effective public health tool for reducing infection spread, something that I and numerous colleagues have been saying for more than a year.

CDC has still not recognized that for Covid, masks are useless, that distancing is useless, that general population testing is virtually useless for managing the population pandemic.

That the CDC has reviewed itself and only found trivialities and not the systematic problems that caused it to produce repeatedly failing policies shows that this review exercise was only window dressing.  It was not a serious review.

The CDC needs a completely different independent external review to understand how it as a public health agency with MD and PhD epidemiologists could get so much science wrong for so long.  The current makeover plans are ludicrous, will fool no one, and will not restore any of the large amount of public trust that has been lost by its poor performance over the last 2.5 years.

Let’s take a moment to dissect the puff press piece that I think was the best of the lot from corporate press covering this story, although still full of spin from top to bottom.

Politico, 17 August 2022

CDC director orders agency overhaul, admitting flawed Covid-19 response

Rochelle Walensky wants to boost transparency by releasing data more quickly and to improve communication with the public.”

Starting with the title- I see no signs that Walensky was the one directing this reorganization. And is the speed of data release and public communication the real problem here? In short, no. Lack of integrity is the problem. Dishonesty, regulatory capture, rampant evidence of corruption, or as the NY Times has stated on February 26, 2022:

The C.D.C. Isn’t Publishing Large Portions of the Covid Data It Collects

“The agency has withheld critical data on boosters, hospitalizations and, until recently, wastewater analyses.”

“Two full years into the pandemic, the agency leading the country’s response to the public health emergency has published only a tiny fraction of the data it has collected, several people familiar with the data said.”

“Much of the withheld information could help state and local health officials better target their efforts to bring the virus under control. Detailed, timely data on hospitalizations by age and race would help health officials identify and help the populations at highest risk. Information on hospitalizations and death by age and vaccination status would have helped inform whether healthy adults needed booster shots. And wastewater surveillance across the nation would spot outbreaks and emerging variants early.”

The C.D.C. is a political organization as much as it is a public health organization,” said Samuel Scarpino, managing director of pathogen surveillance at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Pandemic Prevention Institute. “The steps that it takes to get something like this released are often well outside of the control of many of the scientists that work at the C.D.C.”

If you compare the NY Times piece of February 26, 2022 and the “Overhaul” which Dr. Walensky has “ordered”, there is almost a perfect match. There is the appearance that the NYT obtained a pre-read of one of the internal HHS analyses/reports which are behind this reorganization.

Continuing with the Politico article:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is launching an overhaul of its structure and operations in an attempt to modernize the agency and rehabilitate its reputation following intense criticism of its handling of the coronavirus pandemic and, more recently, the growing monkeypox outbreak.

“Rehabilitate its reputation” is a pretty damming admission of failure to meet expectations.

On Wednesday, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky shared a series of changes with CDC leadership and staff designed to “transform” the organization and its work culture by improving how the agency shares information, develops public health guidance and communicates with the American public.

Are these changes really coming from the Director?

“For 75 years, CDC and public health have been preparing for COVID-19, and in our big moment, our performance did not reliably meet expectations,” Walensky said in a statement. “As a long-time admirer of this agency and a champion for public health, I want us all to do better.”

Well, that will certainly help morale <sarcasm>. Her statement was pre-recorded and broadcast to all CDC employees, by the way. She certainly likes to be on TV. That sounds to me like the behavior of an autocratic and isolated “leader”.

The CDC restructuring follows two reviews conducted in recent months, one by Health Resources and Services Administration official Jim Macrae into the CDC’s pandemic response and another by CDC Chief of Staff Sherri Berger into agency operations.

Oops. Now we are getting somewhere. Who is Jim Macrae? Politico has “forgotten” to add that little detail.

James Macrae, M.A., M.P.P.

Associate Administrator
Bureau of Primary Health Care
Health Resources and Services Administration
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Jim is a member of the Senior Executive Service (ES-00), the top bureaucrats who actually run the administrative state.

Who is Sherri Berger?

CDC Chief of Staff Sherri Berger

Ms. Berger is also a career bureaucrat and member of the Senior Executive Service (ES-00)

So, two senior Administrative State bureaucrats, both members of the Senior Executive Service (one of whom is Dr. Walensky’s Chief of Staff (!!) have stepped in and run internal audits/”reviews” of how the CDC is performing under her direction.

What did they find?

The reviews concluded that the “traditional scientific and communication processes were not adequate to effectively respond to a crisis the size and scope of the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to an agency statement.

Specifically, Macrae’s review, which included 120 interviews with CDC staffers and people outside the agency, recommended a series of improvements, including releasing scientific findings and data more quickly to improve transparency, translating science into practical and easy-to-understand policy, improving communication with the public, working better with other agencies and public health partners, and training and incentivizing the agency’s workforce to respond better to public health emergencies.

Mike drop moment. Bad morale (as has been documented in prior publications):

Health experts are quitting the NIH and CDC in droves because they’re embarrassed by ‘bad science’ – including vaccinating children under 5 to ‘make their advice palatable to the White House,’ doctors claim”.

Not playing well with others (agencies). Validation of all of the sins mentioned by the NYT. Personally, I have long wondered why the NYT published that story. I now strongly suspect that they were acting as a conduit from senior executive service (ergo Administrative State) as a work around to avoid having key findings buried by the executive branch.

There is consensus within the CDC that it “needs to make some changes for how it communicates and how it operates — to be faster, to be nimbler, to use more plain spoken language,” said a CDC official, who was granted anonymity to discuss the changes before they were announced.

Hmm, Anonymous “CDC official”. Discussed the changes before they were announced. So Politico has been holding this story, which was leaked to them anonymously by a CDC official. I could speculate who that could be, but I think you can infer as well as I can.

“People work incredibly, incredibly hard and care deeply about trying to make sure that the American people have the right information,” the official said. “Maybe the way that a lot of the [Covid-19] response was structured, and some of the incentives that people have here, are just not aligned properly to really put the focus toward getting information to people quickly and how that information can benefit Americans’ health.”

“Incentives are not aligned”. Well, if that does not sound like SES/HR speak, I do not know what does.

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