State and local public health agencies are calling on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to take more active steps to correct course from the failures of the COVID-19 pandemic, which they said may require more funding from the Biden administration and Congress.

“The agency must move quickly to restore its position as the nation’s preeminent public health laboratory in time to address rapidly evolving public health needs,” three top officials from the Association of Public Health Laboratories wrote in an opinion piece published by Scientific American on Monday. 

APHL represents state and local government health laboratories throughout the United States and includes various public health, agricultural, and environmental testing facilities. Jill Taylor, senior adviser for scientific affairs at APHL and member of the CDC’s advisory committee on laboratories, wrote the piece with Ewa King and Scott Becker, the nonpartisan group’s chief program officer and CEO, respectively.

The authors specifically highlight the CDC’s early failures in producing accurate diagnostic testing for COVID-19, citing the agency’s “‘only we can do it’ approach” without taking into account the expertise of state and local agencies.

In 2023, the CDC took steps to launch the Center for Laboratory Systems and Response, charged with coordinating the 40 CDC diagnostic laboratories and collaborating with private and academic institutions as well as diagnostic testing manufacturers. This was announced as part of the agency’s “Moving Forward” strategy to address COVID-19 failures.

The center, however, is still not on the CDC’s organizational chart, the APHL noted, saying that the agency “needs to move faster to demonstrate the importance of this organizational change.”

The authors also criticized the CDC for not more rapidly cooperating with state and local agencies, saying the agency needs to view itself “as the hub of a wheel rather than at the top of a pyramid.”

“CDC has, in the past, perceived itself at the apex of a pyramid in which laboratories in the lower layers have decreasing levels of complexity and capability,” wrote the APHL authors, who said the agency is slowly beginning to collaborate more with state-level agencies and the private sector.

Taylor, King, and Becker wrote that despite these problem areas, the agency needs greater funding from Congress to strengthen its own laboratory facilities.

“Testing laboratories at CDC have historically not had adequate levels of staff and resources consistent with the agency’s responsibility as the nation’s premier public health laboratory,” they wrote.

The authors also said that few CDC scientists are certified federally to be laboratory directors for high-complexity testing facilities, which require a degree in laboratory science. 

They also said that those in lab positions at the CDC “report to senior health professionals who lack the specific education and training needed to oversee essential laboratory quality and performance standards.”

“Essential to success is ensuring that the agency receives levels of federal funding appropriate to its breadth of responsibilities,” they wrote.

Receiving bipartisan support from Congress for funding increases, however, remains unlikely as tensions between the GOP and CDC have only increased since the pandemic.

House Republicans have subpoenaed the Department of Health and Human Services several times during this legislative session, including for information regarding the agency’s earliest knowledge of COVID-19, and have faced continued stonewalling tactics.

Last summer, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) introduced a measure to make the CDC director subject to Senate confirmation, similar to the National Institutes of Health director, to improve oversight. Other Republican senators have expressed frustration with the CDC’s political correctness, such as using the phrase “chestfeeding” in its page on breastfeeding guidance. 

Taylor, King, and Becker, however, argued that looming public health threats, such as the syphilis epidemic and domestic malaria, demand greater oversight and funding for the CDC.

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“The next threat is likely around the corner and as a nation, we must do better,” the authors wrote.

Neither the CDC nor HHS responded to the Washington Examiner’s requests for comment.

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