Dr. Anthony Fauci announced this week that he will step down from his posts as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden at the end of the year.
Just days earlier, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, announced a plan to reorganize the agency in response to its failures amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The turnover suggests the nation’s public health agencies are at an inflection point. To fix them, we must insist that they return to their most basic disease-fighting duties.
The public health establishment has strayed far from those roots over the past 2 1/2 years. Top infectious disease experts became embroiled in politics and routinely issued contradictory guidance. Perhaps most damningly, the CDC failed to create an effective test for COVID-19 in the pandemic’s early days — and prevented private-sector experts from creating their own.
Public health officials greenlighted massive in-person protests during the summer of 2020, but only for politically fashionable liberal causes. They spent months arguing about the most equitable way to distribute vaccines rather than simply pushing to get as many shots in arms as possible.
They discouraged people from wearing masks in the pandemic’s early days, citing a lack of evidence of efficacy. Really, it seems that they were worried about not having enough for healthcare professionals. Now, they’re quick to recommend masks for just about any public health concern, even monkeypox, despite evidence that the virus is spread primarily via sexual contact among men.
Walensky’s proposed changes include restructuring the agency’s organizational chart, limiting turnover, incentivizing action, establishing a new office of equity, and, of course, asking Congress for more funding.
Shuffling the bureaucracy, giving it even more power, and throwing yet more money at it will not fix the systemic problems that were revealed during the pandemic. Instead, Congress needs to hold hearings and make additional funding contingent on real reform that would return the CDC and other public health bodies to their core mission: fighting disease.