Science

America is missing vaccination goals, and Delta is raging, but it’s not because ‘anything particularly went wrong,’ CDC Director Rochelle Walensky says in The EIC Interview

Summary List PlacementI'm Nicholas Carlson, the global editor in chief of Insider. Here's the latest installment of my series, The EIC Interview, condensed and edited for clarity. President Biden laid out a goal of getting the public 70% vaccinated by July 4. What went wrong? I don't know that we can say that anything particularly went wrong. I think we have a very heterogeneous country, and we are trying to unify a country that started out as not entirely unified. We always knew that this was going to be hard work. At the end of any vaccination campaign — and I wouldn't necessarily...

Rochelle Walensky

Summary List Placement

I’m Nicholas Carlson, the global editor in chief of Insider. Here’s the latest installment of my series, The EIC Interview, condensed and edited for clarity.

President Biden laid out a goal of getting the public 70% vaccinated by July 4. What went wrong?

I don’t know that we can say that anything particularly went wrong.

I think we have a very heterogeneous country, and we are trying to unify a country that started out as not entirely unified.

We always knew that this was going to be hard work. At the end of any vaccination campaign — and I wouldn’t necessarily say that we’re at the end — you have to work harder for each incremental step.

And so now we’re working hard for each incremental step.

Do you agree that the CDC has lost a lot of public trust over the past year and a half? And if you do agree, is there a plan to fix that?

I think that this country was not prepared for a global pandemic. I think the CDC was never funded or supported in a way that was necessary, nor was public health supported in a way to make this situation be successful. We had a completely divided country. And I don’t think that all of those things have helped the current situation.

Certainly, the CDC has had its challenges and has not infrequently been the place that fingers have been pointed at in terms of how things have been handled, but I also think we have to look at the big picture.

The CDC is full of 12,000 people and another 10,000 contractors whose sole job it is to stay up all night and keep America safe. You will never know their names. Some of them were up last night at a data request for me to sort of help inform what the next steps are.

So I think we have to understand sort of the big root of the issue and that the investment in public health, the investment in the infrastructure, was never capable of what was required of them in this moment.

Is it something that you think about, how the CDC can build back trust?

Absolutely. And I think that’s going to be hard-earned. I think that it’s going to require investments. It’s going to require a very public voice. People need to hear from the agency and from its director and from its subject-matter experts. I think we need to have a vision and a plan for how we as a country and the CDC will advance public-health efforts and preparedness moving forward.

But we all need to own some of the responsibility of making sure that public health is prepared for the next potential pandemic.

I will remind you that no one thought that the next pandemic was going to be a coronavirus. They thought it would be an influenza.

So just because we got a coronavirus, it doesn’t mean we’re protected from an influenza.

Skeptics of the CDC say that the agency is too much under the sway of whoever is the president right now — that its messaging and big decisions are made in part for political considerations.

My job is to protect the public’s health. The motivation that I have and that the CDC is leading with in this moment right now is to take the best science that we can as fast as we can and make sure that we protect the most people that we can in the context of the current pandemic.

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