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CDC needs to emphasize 'layered protection' against COVID-19: Walensky

·Senior Reporter
·3 min read

As the U.S. braces for a potential surge in COVID-19 cases this fall, and with a new formula for vaccines poised for authorization, the country's top public health agency faces the challenge of arming Americans with the accurate information and tools to avoid infection.

It's a battle the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has struggled with since the start of the pandemic. In part because the unprecedented demand for timely, accurate information had never been greater. But the CDC also never had been so visible directly to the broader public, according to the agency's director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky.

"CDC historically has been communicating with scientific experts, public health experts. And what we've learned in this pandemic is now now the American public is coming to CDC for information," Walensky told Yahoo Finance in an interview Friday.

It's why the agency is learning how to modernize its communication routes and ensure information is easy to digest.

"We need to communicate with the American public to have easily understandable policies and understandable science that people can take, access and implement themselves. And that's the work that we're doing ahead," she added.

SAN RAFAEL, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 06: Registered Nurse Orlyn Grace (R) administers a COVID-19 booster vaccination to Diane Cowdrey (L) at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic on April 06, 2022 in San Rafael, California. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has authorized a second COVID-19 booster of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for people over 50 years old four months after their first booster. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Registered Nurse Orlyn Grace (R) administers a COVID-19 booster vaccination to Diane Cowdrey (L) at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic on April 06, 2022 in San Rafael, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

That includes emphasizing the need for all layers of protection against COVID-19. Though new bivalent vaccines targeting the BA.4/BA.5 variants are set to roll out after Labor Day, there remains low uptake among the youngest age groups and in boosters for older adults.

And a lack of funding from Congress means the country faces a potential cliff in terms of access to tools like testing and treatments. It's why critics have called for better enforcement of more public health tools like masking in indoor spaces and better ventilation.

"CDC put the recommendations out, but these are policies that are made at the local level. And so we don't make masking policies at the local level. Those are made by local jurisdictions, and we don't have any authority to do so," Walensky said.

"We need to continue to send them messages of layered prevention interventions," she added.

The CDC continues to publish local transmission levels, based on metrics implemented earlier this year. That puts more counties in lower levels compared to metrics used before February, which has been criticized by some experts.

Still, Walensky said anyone can view the maps and make the risk decision on their own.

NEW YORK, USA - MAY 12: Pedestrians pass a sign advertising a COVID-19 testing site in New York, the United States, on May 12, 2022.  TO GO WITH
Pedestrians pass a sign advertising a COVID-19 testing site in New York, the United States (Photo by Michael Nagle/Xinhua via Getty Images)

"We continue to recommend policies of masking and individual masking in areas that are high, in areas that are orange, and that people make some individual assessment in areas that are yellow or green, medium or low, COVID-19 community levels," she said.

But beyond Covid, the country is now managing two additional outbreaks simultaneously.

And the CDC is undergoing the process of an agency-wide overhaul, including plans to quickly disseminate information as soon as its available, changing how the agency works with its jurisdictions and how it promotes staff internally, it also has to battle the ongoing pandemic, an outbreak of sexually-transmitted monkeypox and vaccine-derived polio.

When asked which one worried her more, Walensky said the CDC had all bases covered.

"Maybe one common thing that I will say is that disease is prevented in all of these with vaccination," she said.

"And so among the things that we really need to do is send the message, for polio specifically, the thing that prevents paralytic disease and polio is vaccination, and it works nearly 100%," Walenksy added.

Anjalee Khemlani is a reporter at Yahoo Finance covering all things business, with a focus on health care.

Follow Anjalee on Twitter @AnjKhem

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