A surge in respiratory infections among young children in China is not cause for alarm, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Mandy Cohen told House lawmakers Thursday.
While the infections are triggering some flashbacks to the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cohen said her agency is confident that they are being caused by known pathogens such as the flu or respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
“We believe there is no new or novel pathogen,” Cohen said. “These are related to existing pathogens — COVID, flu, RSV” and mycoplasma, a bacterium that can infect the lungs.
Cohen said CDC has a small office in China that has been able to corroborate the assessment of its Chinese counterparts: that because of the country’s COVID lockdowns, the usual cohort of respiratory viruses weren’t circulating, and children weren’t able to build up immunity defenses. Once those pathogens returned, outbreaks happened.
Cohen said the Chinese explanation was corroborated by “other sources from our European Union partners and others to make sure that we are getting a complete picture.”
Still, GOP members of the committee cast the infections as suspicious and said they did not trust China to be transparent, pointing to earlier denials of information about the coronavirus that made the global response more difficult.
“We are hoping that you can put some pressure in an attempt to try to get China to not mislead the world as they did with COVID-19,” said Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.), chairman of the subcommittee on oversight and investigations that conducted the hearing.
Republican lawmakers also said they did not trust the independence of the World Health Organization to push China to release all relevant information.
“It brings us back, sadly, to the early days of COVID-19,” said Energy and Commerce Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.). “The lack of reliable information coming out of China is a troubling parallel to 2020.”
During the hearing, McMorris Rodgers and other Republicans slammed the agency for its COVID response, though much of that predated Cohen’s tenure. They criticized its guidance on masks and vaccines as overreaching, and indicated they want to limit the agency’s scope.
While the CDC only made recommendations, many states introduced mask and vaccine mandates, including North Carolina, where Cohen served as health secretary.
Cohen asked lawmakers to ensure the agency has the necessary resources to accurately track and monitor health threats. Republicans are eyeing steep budget cuts in a 2024 appropriations bill, including slashing HIV funding, firearm injury research and eliminating funding for the programs that help the agency forecast and monitor pathogen risks.
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