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CDC Director Walensky talks COVID-19 response, monkeypox, and reorganization

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the CDC's response to COVID-19 and recent changes to guidelines, how the agency is dealing with monkeypox outbreaks, and the CDC's reorganization.

Video Transcript

DAVE BRIGGS: If the VIX measured the Centers for Disease Control, it would have shown a rather volatile few years. To smooth things out, the CDC is undergoing a massive reorganization. Anjalee Khemlani had a chance to speak with CDC Director Rochelle Walensky today. And Anj joins us now. What did she tell you about this massive reorg?

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Well, it's largely been outlined, right? So we know some of the details of it. But I think what was interesting to hear from her is just her perspective on why it's needed at a time like this, and sort of how the agency, for the first time in its history, is pivoting to speak directly to the American people.

It's never had to do that before. It's largely always had to deal with experts, and scientists, and news folk like ourselves, right? And that has been the channel of information for them. So a lot to do with that and how she's battling monkeypox, polio, and COVID all at the same time. So listen to what she had to say.

ROCHELLE WALENSKY: Well, we-- certainly, we have always said and we as 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. We don't have any authority to do so.

What we can do is put out those recommendations. And we continue every week to post our COVID-19 community level so people can look-- jurisdictions can look and see. But you're right, we need to continue to send the messages of layered prevention interventions. As you know, masking's still working, screening testing's still working before you go see somebody who is vulnerable or if you've been exposed, as well as ventilation in our public indoor areas and then, of course, vaccination. All of those things are the layered prevention strategies that we have seen working.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: I want to pivot to monkeypox now. I know that we've seen some reports out that it may have peaked in terms of the number of cases, but we also see-- you have to battle so many outbreaks right now. We've got monkeypox, versus COVID, versus polio. I just wonder, which one should we prioritize? Or rather, which one are you most worried about?

ROCHELLE WALENSKY: What I will say is we have extraordinary subject matter experts who are working in all of these really important areas. Maybe one common thing that I will say is that disease is prevented in all of these with vaccination. And so among the things that we really need to do is send the message, for polio specifically, the thing that prevents paralytic disease in polio is vaccination. And it works nearly 100%.

So if you're not vaccinated against polio-- your loved ones, your children are not vaccinated against polio, critically important to get vaccinated, get up to date on your polio vaccines. With regard to monkeypox, we have seen in some areas of the world a flattening of those new cases. We're starting to see some of that in some jurisdictions here in the United States. We're following this very carefully. We still have had an increased cases here in the United States.

And we do have now vaccine available-- a two-dose vaccine available for those who are at highest risk of monkeypox. And we're continuing to make that available to jurisdictions around the country, and then as we just had an important conversation about COVID-19 boosters available now to those over 50 and looking to see what will be available in the fall and the coming weeks.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: And lastly, I want to talk about the reorganization and the revamping happening at the CDC. I know you've acknowledged the missteps in the COVID-19 response. There's also some criticism that some of those same missteps have happened in the monkeypox response. I know one thing that was new was really partnering at the local level and targeting those events and making sure that doses are available there.

But I just wonder-- when it comes to talking to the American public, that's a pivot that you've acknowledged the agency has had to do since the beginning. And you're doing so, especially now, in a really fractured information system. How do you go about really ensuring that your message is reaching the American public and not being distorted when you don't really have control over mono channels?

ROCHELLE WALENSKY: Yeah, that's a really important question. Maybe what I will do is step back and just say, never in our 76-year history as an agency have we had to tackle a public health threat of the size and scope of the COVID-19 pandemic. And we learned a lot of lessons.

One of the things we've learned is how important it is to have public health action-oriented culture within CDC. We need to move quickly. We need to be accountable. We need to communicate. And we need to be collaborative.

And all of those things are key pillars and key principles as we move forward as an agency. But importantly, you know communication is a key part of that. And you know, CDC historically has been communicating with scientific experts, public health experts. And what we've learned in this pandemic is that now, the American public is coming to CDC for information.

And 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.

I will also say that we've set some examples already. Some of these lessons that we've learned, We, are applying right now. Just this past week, we've released new monkeypox data, survey data, pre-publication new data on demographics of who is getting access to tecovirimat or TPoxx for our monkeypox treatment. So we are taking those lessons learned and applying them immediately.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Definitely. And also maybe a reeducation for everyone that science changes sometimes. I know that's a hard one to let through. Really quickly before I let you go-- in this revamp and reorg, I know there's a lot of different moving parts and new offices that are being set up. Do you anticipate that you might have any layoffs as a result? The business world really understands reorganization.

ROCHELLE WALENSKY: We're not anticipating that. There are a few people whose roles may change, but we have an incredible agency of dedicated public health experts, and we're not anticipating that.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: So as you can hear, a lot of movement, a lot of change at the CDC, and a lot of steps already being taken as well. But definitely remains to be seen how it all plays out.

DAVE BRIGGS: I don't envy her workload.


DAVE BRIGGS: Reestablishing trust with the American people is going to take a long haul and reorganization. Anj, great job. Thanks so much. Have a good weekend.