Failing CDC Chief Rochelle Walensky Makes Confession, Announces “Shake Up” via Committee When She Should Resign

When Biden appointed Rochelle Walensky to head the CDC, we were alone in predicting she would not be up to the task of turning the Atlanta-based agency around. With the benefit of hindsight, our take was far too kind. The cost of her misrule has been high.

We could give you figures, but since the CDC, which was supposed to be a data shop, is trying to get out of that business, we’ll deal as they do in narrative:

We’re going to spare you a full rap sheet but consider: Walensky herself misled the public by saying “fully vaccinated people do not carry the virus.” The agency took a vax-only policy, refusing to take aerosols seriously, continuing to push fomites and deep cleaning theater well after that was known to be unimportant, ignored ventilation and actively discouraged masking by denigrating masks as a scarlet letter that would remind people that a pandemic was still on, as if feelers were more important than lives:

Yesterday Walensky ate some crow in admitting the CDC had preformed poorly. But she’s not willing to quit, which is the only hope for the agency to shape up. We are far from alone in thinking she needs to go. Note that there are a surprisingly high number of tweets, both by those medically adjacent as well as what seem like ordinary but interested citizens, which suggests widespread antipathy:

Her fix up plan amounts to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic and confirms her lack of needed leadership chops, most of all, the willingness to admit failure, here personal failure, and not mere “mistakes”.

Aside from the her performance failures, if CDC employment levels have dropped as far as media stories over time suggest, the agency has hemorrhaged staff and requires the equivalent of ICU care.

Press reports in early 2021, shortly after Walensky joined, said the agency had 21,000 employees. I recounted that figure in my January 2021 post and there are plenty of 2020 and 2021 articles that confirm that staffing level (see the Wall Street Journal, Medpage Today, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

The current batch of stories say 11,000 (see New York Times, NBC, NPR). If that’s accurate and headcount at the CDC has collapsed to that degree, the agency is falling apart. Walensky would need to go if so because it happened on her watch and new leadership would be essential to have any hope of righting the ship.

Walensky made the rounds with the press about the CDC revamp, but both her admission of culpability and the discussion of the turnaround plan were suitably vague. First from the Financial Times:

The director of the top US public health agency has admitted the organisation made some “pretty dramatic, pretty public mistakes” in tackling the Covid-19 pandemic and unveiled a shake-up of personnel and policies designed to improve its response to emergency situations.

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Wednesday the planned reforms would improve accountability and “timeliness of response” at the agency, which is responsible for protecting Americans from disease and other public health threats.

The CDC’s handling of the pandemic has come under stinging criticism from some health experts who contend it has become overly politicised and failed to collect important data needed to slow the spread of Covid or promote rapid testing.

More recently, critics have expressed concerns about the agency’s slow initial response to the spread of monkeypox, which was declared a public health emergency in the US this month.

What is telling is that the pink paper says Walensky established a review in April to make recommendations. The text above suggests that data collection and publication were known lapses. Yet from April onward, the agency was further cutting its reports.

Here is the CBS version:

The head of the nation’s top public health agency on Wednesday announced a shake-up of the organization, saying it fell short responding to COVID-19 and needs to become more nimble.

The planned changes at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — CDC leaders call it a “reset”— come amid criticism of the agency’s response to COVID-19, monkeypox and other public health threats. The changes include internal staffing moves and steps to speed up data releases.

The CDC’s director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, told the agency’s staff about the changes on Wednesday. It’s a CDC initiative, and was not directed by the White House or other administration officials, she said.

“Nimble” and “reset” are MBA speak and suggest that whatever this fix-up process is about, it’s not operationally-focused enough to do much good. And it’s not hard to infer that Walensky knew her days were numbered unless she at least appeared to be getting in front of the problem. Of course, that’s a wee bit difficult when you are the problem.

The crumbs at the Financial Times are similarly troubling:

The CDC has selected Mary Wakefield, a former acting deputy secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services in the Obama administration, to lead a team to implement the reform programme. It will create an executive council to determine agency priorities, track progress and align budget decisions, with a focus on public health impact.

It will also create a one-stop shop for external partners to interact with the agency, according to an outline of the plan.

If you want to effect fundamental change at an organization, it has to come from the top. A management committee, no matter how glorified the label, is too removed from line authority and intel on what is happening on a day to day basis to be much more than a generator of Power Point fig leaves.

Instead, Walensky’s “restart” is a half-hearted version of CEO life extension ploys: shake things up and then use that to argue it can’t yet be determined if you are turning things around. One analogue is former HP CEO Carly Fiorina’s acquisition of Compaq, which was widely expected and proved to be a disaster. Fiorina was on a path to ouster otherwise. She managed to get shareholder approval for the Compaq buy despite it being well understood that the main reason for doing the deal was Fiorina’s desire to hang on. Most thought she’d wind up being given another two years to see if Compaq worked out.

This sorry outcome should come as no surprise. The short version of Walensky’s tenure is that she came in with great fanfare after the CDC has performed shambolically, losing months of time early in the pandemic by botching its own test kit and not letting other organizations fill the gap. There was a lot of predictable Trump-blaming, but the test fiasco rests entirely at the CDC’s feet, as does its pre-existing reputation for poor performance.

Note that if you read the patter at the time of Walensky’s elevation, her job was to get 100 million people vaccinated (and related to that, make headway in combatting vax resistance) and improve the image of the agency. These were not even remotely public health goals.

We pointed out what should have been obvious: Walensky was not remotely qualified. Oh, she’s been in and around public health. She was touted as being the head of infectious diseases at the prestigious Mass General. She was an early AIDS researcher. She’s been on some important state advisory committees and so presumably gave good meeting. As we wrote in 2021:

Magnitude of CDC role relative to Dr. Walensky’s previous experience. Walensky has never managed a bureaucracy the size of the CDC, which has 21,000 employees. It’s a little troubling that there is no “infectious diseases” department on the Mass General org chart from June 2019.2 That confirms the concern that she does not have a history of running a large or even a not-so-large operation. Nor has she designed or overseen the implementation of large-scale program. This challenge is even more daunting given the need for rapid execution to accelerate vaccine distribution….

And keep in mind another issue: Dr. Walensky is going from an elite organization to one where she’ll deal with top managers and numerous important outside constituencies who won’t be at the same level, intellectually and likely in terms of professionalism, of her former colleagues. This is another difficult adjustment.

Bluntly, that “infectious diseases” effort at Mass General didn’t even rate a box on its very busy org chart, suggesting Walesky hadn’t managed anything much bigger than her desk and some research teams of postdocs.

Of course, the entire Biden Administration is so weak that Walensky’s glaring inadequacies do not stand out. But they are far more consequential than those of Pete Buttigieg at the Department of Transportation. The fact that the US is the world leader in per capita Covid deaths is reason alone for Walensky to be run out of town on a rail.

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  1. DJG, Reality Czar

    To me, the most telling detail is from Eric Feigl-Ding: She didn’t move to Atlanta for half of her tenure at CDC. (Presumably, the first half.) I have witnessed this before. Can’t be bothered. The only problem with can’t-be-bothered is the immediate whiff of failure.

    The problem with masks is cultural, as has been noted here many times by Lambert Strether. Yet the CDC and the august Upper-Middle-Class of Managementgoria never wanted to know that something simple, like a mask, could be effective, if people were encouraged to have some sense of the collective good. Condoms were an even harder sell, but public health agencies and AIDS activists were willing to put in the time and take the abuse.

    As has been noted here at Naked Capitalism, the vaccine-only route is what the business class wants. Poke ’em with a needle and get them back into their veal-fattening pens.

    And monkeypox, now being miscategorized as an STD, makes one wonder how many of these peeps even made it through medical school. If the groundlings here at Naked Capitalism figured out in a matter of days that monkeypox isn’t an STD, what’s going on at CDC (and WHO)?

    1. Jim

      I disagree. The problem with masks, as Dr. Vinay Prasad has pointed out numerous times, is the complete lack of evidence that they work! His posts (on his Substack) and videos discuss this. Look at this one, from February:

      He takes on the CDC for its failure to conduct any studies.

      I’m surprised the Naked Capitalism brain trust is still banging the drums for masking, or the possibility of “Zero Covid” as a realistic approach. Ventilation is often mentioned here, for good reason. It’s actually effective. But implementation requires Government, Business, Hospitals, Schools, etc to spend money – even if Corsi boxes are cheap. The problem is, these expenditures on effective measures don’t flow into the coffers of Big Pharma!

      I’ve long wondered at the absence of any mention here of Ian Miller’s work. For the past two years he’s been generating graphics demonstrating the futility of mask mandates, where every they’ve been applied. Outcomes turn out to be almost identical. Countries hailed as models for their mask requirements soon enough have explosions in cases.

      The CDC and FDA should be hammered for crushing any discussion, let alone implementation, of treatment modalities that have proven to work, using inexpensive repurposed medications and supplements. That had nothing to do with where Walensky lived!

      1. witters

        Mate, you must be new. The “masks don’t work” nonsense has been endlessly refuted here. Shit masks and masking doesn’t work.

      2. Basil Pesto

        Prasad is an unserious moron. His insistence on RCTs for respirators, despite the fact that their baseline efficacy can clearly be deduced from first principles reasoning with regard to the laws of physics alone, marks him out as a cretinous charlatan unworthy of being taken seriously. To say nothing of the robust evidence and investigation that NC has published on this topic for 2.5 years, after an initial position of mask sceticism, no less. Prasad’s claims are on the order of “we need to RCT parachutes!!”. It’s clownshow epistemology and he is a massive goober.

        Mask mandates will have limited epidemiological effect at a country-wide level where other facets of human intercourse – particularly restaurants and bars, which drive outbreaks – continues to persist. At smaller scales in communities, benefits can be readily observed. NC publishes studies weekly showing the benefit of masking in, for example, school populations.

        The idea that “inexpensive repurposed medications” – already quite heavily used in the real world and in trials – and supplements for god’s sake, have more to offer us as prophylaxis than wider community uptake of respirators is fanciful crap. This can also in part be inferred by comparing Australia’s mortality rates with some of our regional neighbours who are far less whiny about masking, and whose pandemic histories including vaccination/Let Er Rip implementation are otherwise broadly similar. No one facet of any country’s SARS response is sufficient by itself as disease control, though.

        1. Jim

          I’m not new here, though I don’t post often. Been reading Naked Capitalism for well more than a decade. During the Covid period, I’ve also been reading and watching other sources, including many of the doctors and researchers who’ve been silenced, banned, threatened with loss of Board certification, etc. Vinay Prasad is perhaps the most “moderate” of those (which is why I linked to a couple of his posts) and hasn’t faced nearly the threats to his position as many others. He’s on solid ground when he calls out the CDC for not conducting actual studies of mask efficacy, ventilation, distancing, or anything else, more than two years in.

          So much masking has been theater, nothing more. Walk into a restaurant, wear a mask until seated. Then eat, drink, talk for an hour or more unmasked. Put mask on again, walk out of the restaurant. Go to jazz performances, including for a repertory Big Band. Seventeen musicians on stage, in a huge hall. Three rows of saxophones, trombones, and trumpets. Might as well have a few snow-blowers up there, for all the air that’s being projected. Meanwhile, the pianist, bassist, guitarist are still masked during performances. Does this make any sense? I laugh every time I’m in a grocery store, and see staffers, and some customers, with bushy beards, with a mask floating on top. You want even a surgical mask, never mind a K95, to fit properly? Better be clean shaven, and fit-tested. Good luck with that on a mass scale!

          The WHO and CDC “playbooks,” right up until the first months of the Covid-19 outbreak, were clear that masks were not effective even against influenza. Covid-19 is smaller yet, and will pass through far more easily. How can we still be having this debate two and half years on? Yes, masks have become – were made into – a cultural marker, to the great detriment of honest medical and scientific discourse.

          IM Doc pointed us toward a medical colleague, who posts as A Midwestern Doctor. All his posts are worth reading. See what he has to say about masking.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            My choices were to trash your comment or edit out the very last two lines, and I chose the latter.

            IM Doc did not link to A Midwestern Doctor as a general endorsement but to show that some doctors were seeing some of the problems he did with the vaccinated becoming infected (once a taboo topic, now accepted).

            A Midwestern Doctor is unsound. The fact that he touts herd immunity alone disqualifies him to say more than report on what he observes in his practice. He also contradict himself on masks. He eventually concedes that N95s are effective but says there aren’t enough (false now and even more so since they can be worn for a week, often more, see: In fact, the countries with high levels of mask use (Asia) have much much lower Covid rates than ours.

            1. ChrisRUEcon

              Thanks Yves. I was tempted to respond late last night, but figured you’d “have a word”. My only addition to the discourse concerns the popularity of RCT’s in medicine and economics – a topic with which I am familiar because of my mentor/professor/friend Stephen Ziliak. He co-authored an excellent paper on the ethics and efficacy of RCT’s (or lack thereof), which all can find here:

              “The Unprincipled Randomization Principle in Economics and Medicine” (Roosevelt University via SSRN)

          2. Basil Pesto

            Your time here is of no concern to me (although you might spare me the “appeal to longevity” argument after your gormless and condescending “I’m surprised the Naked Capitalism brain trust is still banging the drums for masking”, as though said brain trust is somehow lacking in technical or rhetorical chops in comparison with random Substack MDs).

            What is of concern is agnotology in the form of statements like “complete lack of evidence that masks work” which is an absurd and egregious lie. By casting doubt on a subject where there is none to be cast (although there is certainly a lot of room for clarification and explanation), you risk hoodwinking other readers into unduly putting themselves at risk, which I frankly resent.

            Ultimately your post is a barely coherent hodgepodge of anti-mask arguments which have been dispensed with many times over the course of the past two years, and seems to fall prey to the idea of shunting masks into a “masks do/don’t work” binary which those of us introduced to the topic when the pandemic began grew out of more than two years ago. Their efficacy is on a continuum which is determined by several variables. The basic point remains: for a given individual in a potential exposure situation, they are better off wearing a respirator to reduce their probability of infection than not.

            He’s on solid ground when he calls out the CDC for not conducting actual studies of mask efficacy, ventilation, distancing, or anything else, more than two years in.

            Prasad calls for one of the highest bars of study – randomised control trials – which aren’t even necessarily appropriate for non-pharmaceutical interventions (see, again, my example of Prasad’s argument taken to its most absurd extent: that we need to run RCT trials on parachutes). They are also difficult to run for NPIs, and prohibitively expensive, which of course is rather the point. His role as a public figure is to disingenuously cast doubt on things like masking, ventilation, etc. by pretending that a “lack of RCT evidence” is the same as a lack of evidence altogether, which, again, is an absurd and egregious lie, and, again, is clownshow epistemology. There has been a copious amount of research on all these topics. Ultimately he belongs to the exact same strain of do-nothingism as Walensky, and his paltry blog is dedicated to rationalising his intellectually and morally bereft position.

            So much masking has been theater, nothing more. Walk into a restaurant, wear a mask until seated. Then eat, drink, talk for an hour or more unmasked. Put mask on again, walk out of the restaurant.

            On this we are in agreement. In Melbourne at the moment there is a mask mandate on public transport. Compliance is of course low, because people understand even just intuitively that such a directive is incoherent when there is no guidance on mask wearing in literally any other context (except the Victorian government recently issued a “strong recommendation” to wear masks to help bring case numbers down as our hospitals are under considerable stress, and which of course has done nothing). This observation, however, has no bearing on the question of whether “masks work”.

            Go to jazz performances, including for a repertory Big Band. Seventeen musicians on stage, in a huge hall. Three rows of saxophones, trombones, and trumpets. Might as well have a few snow-blowers up there, for all the air that’s being projected. Meanwhile, the pianist, bassist, guitarist are still masked during performances.

            Well, probably the most salutary way to proceed in this scenario would be (ideally PCR) testing for the performers at a minimum, with a mask (respirator) mandate for the audience. This would most likely result in less transmission than at the same concert where no one was tested and no one was wearing a mask of any kind. You don’t have to like this basic truth (I don’t; wearing a mask all the time indoors sucks), but truth it is.

            Does this make any sense? I laugh every time I’m in a grocery store, and see staffers, and some customers, with bushy beards, with a mask floating on top. You want even a surgical mask, never mind a K95, to fit properly? Better be clean shaven, and fit-tested. Good luck with that on a mass scale!

            The beard issue is a tricky one, particularly for those with beards for religious reasons. The time to communicate the importance of being clean-shaven while wearing a mask/respirator was obviously in early 2020, but it never really was and that window has closed now.

            But this goes back to my point – it’s not a work/don’t work binary. That is a false dichotomy

            You undo yourself in this regard when you mention fit-testing and then, later, virion size. You’re all over the place. Do they work or not? If your submission is that they don’t work, then what does fit-testing have to do with it? (everyone is better off with fit testing if possible but everyone will also be better off wearing a non-fit tested respirator in a shared indoor space than wearing nothing at all – but not as well protected as someone wearing a fit tested N95 or, better yet, an elastomeric respirator). And then there’s the virion size argument, a laughable canard given that 1) it is not the size of the virion, but the aerosol in which it travels than is salient and 2) it ignores the elactrostatic function of respirators.

            Yes, masks have become – were made into – a cultural marker

            Say it ain’t so.

          1. Basil Pesto

            Give me a break. For the better part of two years I’ve written thousands of words below the line attending to the topic of the SARS2 pandemic with as much patience and care as I can bring to bear in my limited capacities as a layman, and done it – I hope – with an eye toward some kind of generic sense of humanism.

            If you’ve found none of that (or the writing by the editors of this website itself) persuasive, and you prefer being comforted by the tender ministrations of Vinay Prasad, MD MPH, then there’s not much more I can do about that. But I do hope you’ll forgive me for occasionally losing my patience when the cottage industry of Eichmannian mediocrities in full charlatan mode is occasionally invoked as though they have anything of note to offer humanity except what those of tendentious, politicised inclinations already want to hear, or as though they would have anything more or better to offer than what Walensky et al have to date, which is total failure. And if that’s what you aspire to, then you too may be a massive goober.

  2. Northeaster

    I’m old enough to remember when in March of 2021, challenging Walensky’s infamous remarks would get you suspended on social media. Meanwhile, tons of grifters on social media aligning with political ideology and giving out really bad advice and/or promoting bogus political narratives.

    The entire episode has infuriates me beyond comprehension. From COVID finishing off my mother, shuttering schools for my kids, putting my wife on beta-blockers from Pfizer vax, to both wife and daughter getting it (while vaxxed), and son and I (not vaxxed) home all at same time in household.

    Now? Policy is it’s all over. Propaganda and lies for over 2 years. Throw in some human rights crimes to boot. I don’t want a “realignment”, I want criminal prosecutions.

    1. anon in so cal

      Time flies. I think it was May 2021 when RW and the CDC told Americans they could stop wearing masks.

      “”you can take masks off and congregate up-close, if vaccinated,” was an un-researched, and failed, attempt to incentivize the vaccine.”

      IIRC, this was right before a huge surge.

      According to Ars Technica, the CDC’s rationale was that unvaccinated people would rush out and get vaccinated if this would permit them to take off their masks. The CDC had failed to do any research into vaccine reluctance. Such research would have shown their beliefs were b.s.

    1. Basil Pesto

      This touches on a serious problem. Walensky obviously has to go but who replaces her? The problem goes beyond the CDC per se: the directive is to gloss over the problem, to PR their way through the pandemic/infinite SARS, and that will apply regardless of which party is in charge.

      Wen is certainly angling for… something and that is a nightmare scenario, but surely even she wouldn’t be elevated to such a position? Along with other unscrupulous public opinion grifter-ghouls like Wachter and Prasad, she’s just a random MD with barely any relevant insight, which surely isn’t enough to be elevated to such a position… but then again who knows anymore

      1. John Wright

        If the process of the appointment of Walensky was similar to corporate promotions, then there may be a list of candidates who removed themselves from consideration because the Biden administration would not allow them to do the job as they saw appropriate.

        For example, a potential CDC head who would have required China’s Covid-19 policy as a condition for their assuming the CDC role would have been disqualified by the Biden administration.

        I don’t know if there are some good candidates on the bench, but this re-org might allow someone to surface.

        Perhaps the pipe-lines are empty of quality candidates?

        1. Jeff

          “I don’t know if there are some good candidates on the bench, but this re-org might allow someone to surface.”

          The process that put Walensky in place is likely the same process that will be used to replace her. The problem isn’t the lack of qualified people to lead the CDC. The problem is that the ecosystem is rotted with bad incentives. We know this because it allowed a hack like Walensky to be appointed.

          There will be no ‘lessons learned’ moment for that idiotic choice, nor will there be any price to pay for the damage she and Fauci did. That they are still employed is proof of organizational rot.

      2. david anthony

        No, she’s not a random MD. She was the Baltimore Health Commissioner and President of Planned Parenthood and is a fellow at Brookings Institute.. She fills all the boxes.

      3. Jim

        How can you put Bob Wachter and Vinay Prasad in the same category? Aside from the fact they both work at UCSF, their positions on Covid policy are nothing alike. Bob Wachter is one of the “go to” guys for the CDC/NY Times/Washington Post/NPR crowd, and would have us cowering in fear for another decade, getting “boosted” to the nth degree.

        Please keep Wen, Jha, Wachter, far, far away from that CDC position.

        1. Basil Pesto

          In this enduring covid minimisation (maximisation) stage performance:

          Prasad, Balloux, misc GBDists et al play the role of bad cop
          Wachter, Wen, Walenski et al play the role of good cop

          At the end of the day, we end up in the same position, which is the one we’re in now: doing nowhere near enough to counter a relentless and remorseless threat, with thousands dying every day around the world (the first infectious disease to be a leading cause of mortality in what we once quaintly referred to as the developed world since the first half of the twentieth century, indicative of how public health has been set back 100+ years in the space of just 2), and which will have deep, abiding and unpleasant consequences for generations.

          And it works, as evinced by the thoughtless regurgitation of vapid rhetorical soundbites in the “[Bob Wachter] would have us cowering in fear for another decade” style. Seduced by the bad cops, I see. In fact Covid is a solved problem, and implementation of the solution does not involve cowering in fear for a decade. By far the most fearful, unfree and harmful path is the path that we are currently on, the one that Prasad, Bhattacharya, Wachter and Wen alike have all shepherded us on to in their own special, braindead and unscrupulous ways.

      4. bojang bugami

        If the secret goal is to spread covid everywhere, then Wen is the most logical replacement for Walensky in order to continue Walensky’s work of spreading covid everywhere.

  3. DanB

    As a sociologist, I note repeated failure at one institutional level (both Walensky and her predecessor Redfield) points to a systems problems high up. Both Trump and Biden supported “Let ‘er rip” as sotto voce policy. And both Redfield and Walensky acquiesced -note that neither were actual public health professionals.

    As for Walensky creating a committee to hold on, I can imagine Biden replacing her as his way of buying time.

    1. ChiGal

      what exactly qualifies someone to be considered a public health professional? serious question. the abominable RW is an MD-MPH so clearly it isn’t the degree.

      1. Taurus

        You are a member of the public and you have survived to the age of majority.

        Oh, and you have to be a “team player”

  4. petal

    I had no idea she’d been in Newton for half of her tenure. I thought she was a bad choice and unqualified, but come on. This one takes the cake.
    She’s just like the rest of the Biden administration, and as time has passed and my cynicism has traveled to new heights I’ve come to think that she’s done what she was hired to do.
    Cheers, Yves. Sometimes it’s a downer to have been right.

    ps-my former English teacher, now in her early 80s, emailed me last night about visiting in the Fall, and the first question she asked me was “Are you vaccinated?” Her visiting would hinge completely upon my being vaccinated, not masking(N95) or other precautions I take on a daily basis.

    1. cocomaan

      I work remotely, but my job is fairly routine and nobody dies if it goes badly.

      The CDC director working remotely is hilarious.

    2. notabanker

      Yes, I think she has been extremely successful at doing what she was hired to do. The problem is she was not hired to set the best policy for public health, she was hired to get people back to work, in the office, as quickly as possible. Because ‘economy’.

  5. jhallc

    The PMC “Hive Mind” is strong in Newton, MA. A very comfortable place for someone like Walensky.

  6. LAS

    The CDC was falling down before RW got there … however, she sure carries traits contributing to public health decline … (1) The CDC has become too academic / clinically oriented (as opposed to population health experience-oriented); (2) it has distanced itself from the varied population and systems which comprise the USA, and (3) has promoted career title elitism over responsible capacity. The CDC has given up earnest and practical engagement with community systems and structure which I think would have helped to be on top of a new pandemic and the dynamics of its transmission, tracking, and potential blocking.

    Medical doctors/academics and clinical services are important considerations in public health, but they are not generally the best problem solvers for population health; they tend to focus only on their patient catchment or even more simply on patients, and their own status/prestige, including looking at it in the back mirror a lot. When looking forward, it is with narrowly constructed clinical trials, forgetting the importance of robust surveillance over rapidly evolving population dynamics.

    The CDC used to have more shoe-leather staff, deployed into domestic communities and local health departments, and overseas. Many of these were noticeably cut at the start of the DJT administration and/or the departure of Dr. Friedan as agency lead. I feel those feet on the ground were a pool of souls able to be practical about a rapidly evolving situation and implementation; but they were suppressed, diminished, and dismissed.

    Dr. Friedan may not have been perfect but he himself had acquired some excellent understanding; he learned from combatting HIV / TB spread in NYC in the late 1980’s and 1990’s. He learned to have very rigorous quality performance reviews all the time. It made the agencies he worked with much more accountable and nimble, I think. At any rate, it is not happening like that anymore. Things are operating without accountability and the kind of perpetual learning/shaping/directorship that goes with that. There is no longer any accounting for outcomes; people are reporting how many vaccines or masks distributed, but not the outcomes. No agency lead is held responsible for excess deaths or declining death rates anymore. Which may be the whole reason why life expectancy in the USA keeps worsening for all ages of the population.

    1. Arizona Slim

      The CDC has been falling down for a long time. Matter of fact, one of my friends has built an entire nonprofit organization around data that the CDC stopped collecting in 1998.

  7. jackiebass63

    This disease was treated like AIDS. It was attempted to brush it under the rug in the beginning. Then we had vaccines pushed. This was probably a good thing. Unfortunately there was a group working hard to discredit vaccines. They still are. Eventually is was decides to put Covid on the back burner out of the limelight. Let Covid do its thing and have people live with the result. That is where we now are. Willing to accept unnecessary deaths.All of this was economic. Going back to the past was good for the economy, which seems to be the most important factor. A persons life and well being was placed behind making money.Covid will continue to be a major health problem for years. Just like AIDS, it will take years before we have good treatments for COVID. In the meantime millions will die before their time.

    1. HotFlash

      Talked to an old client ystrdy, he told me he’s been vaxxed 4 times and… he recently got Covid. He was aghast. Whatever that thing is, it’s not a vaccine. There’s a new study out of Thailand about adverse effects that looks to be well done which makes it pretty clear that there is a risk. So, not ‘safe’, not ‘effective’, whilst lockdowns, IVM and masks are officially bad, *bad*, *BAD* and not to be thought of. We are looking at 40 deaths per day here in Canada, and that’s apparently OK.

    2. Objective Ace

      I think the vaccines are doing a good enough job discrediting themselves. Why else would you need a 3rd, and now 4th booster.. and those dont even seem to be working very well

      1. Lupana

        We know people waiting for their 5th. At some point you have to ask yourself – ‘Does this make sense?’. And yet, what is the other option? Masks and people avoidance I guess. But not everyone can do that. I don’t see Walensky leaving and, not to be completely pessimistic, but if she does leave I expect someone equally incompetent to take her place.

        1. jsn

          There are lots of people habituated to annual flue “vaccines”.

          This is a base strata of miscommunication anti social tendencies from both poles of the duopoly are building on.

        2. Objective Ace

          ‘Does this make sense?’. And yet, what is the other option?

          This is a false dichotomy that these two questions are related. Everything you are thinking about as “other” options can be done regardless of whether you get vaccinated. And yes it is true that not everyone can or will do that. But that doesn’t change the other question: “Does this make sense”. Whether it makes sense to the individual is up for debate and probably differs at the personal level.

          Ultimately though, this level and duration of effectiveness is not what was promised and in all lilkelihood would not have been enough to pass the initial threshold for Emergency Use Authorization — the vaccines have discredited themselves

    3. kareninca

      I’m glad I haven’t been vaccinated for covid. Literally everyone I know who has caught covid has been vaccinated, and most of them boosted as well. I wear an N95, use xlear, and intermittently use prophylactic horse paste (this is not medical advice!!!) and claritin and so far I haven’t caught covid; I test weekly for my (nearly solitary) volunteer activity and have never had covid symptoms.

      The “group working hard to discredit vaccines”? I’m not sure who that would be. I found some individual writers on that topic (but no group) after I had made my decision. My reasoning was that I didn’t want to take a vaccine that hadn’t been through the typical vaccine trials. Also I didn’t want to take a vaccine whose data had not been fully released. And I did not want to take a vaccine that would make so much money for pharma companies and the politicians they purchase, since I figured that would greatly corrupt the process. I have more reasons now, but those were enough for then.

  8. BeliTsari

    Ashish Jha’s proclamation that henceforth & forever, the free marketplace shall set us FREE of choice, innovation, competition and assign which Pfizer & Moderna mRNA vax we’ll pay for at full market rates. Yep, MANY of us found ourselves banned from lefty blog-aggregators for speculating (citing contradictory, whistle-blowing regulators, astute HCW, renowned epidemiologists or factual journalism: looking at YOU CommonDreams!) If you posted any URL, you were censored; only to discover, they’d aggregate and SPIN the author’s intent, and cherry-pick inconvenient data, statistics or empirical information OUT of your citations?

  9. Kurtismayfield

    The problem is not the person, it is the system. Public health policy is seen as a cost to these MBA types, and it is something that must be minimized, not improved upon. Anyone getting selected to head the CDC will have already been prescreened to have the same worldview, and not want to actually improve public health policy. They will “manage” it, just like we have “managed health care” in the US. The problem is Neoliberalism and the management class.

    1. JEHR

      Maybe when a country does not have a healthcare system based on providing good care to every citizen who needs it, that fact works against the idea of being a fully “public” institution. If a country is not used to including everyone in their systems (as in public health) then it becomes difficult for, say, management to create a system that includes not just providing good healthcare, but creating space for academics, insurance companies, health monopolies, managers of all kinds, sales pitches everyday from pharmaceuticals, etc. When the purpose of health is to make profits (big profits) then it becomes restricted to those who can afford to buy insurance and public health care becomes mote.

      1. Jeff

        “When the purpose of health” – $20 and a steak dinner says this question isn’t asked in any primary or gen election debate.

        We elect cowards and then think they’ll act courageously once in office.

          1. Anthony G Stegman

            More likely they are grossly incompetent. Invariably, this country chooses as leaders the wrong people for the job. Self promoters often rise to the top in celebrity worshiping societies.

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          How do we elect non-cowards when the System Lords engineer non-cowards out of the process before elections are permitted to proceed?

          We can’t elect a Sanders when no Sanders is permitted to get nominated to anything to begin with.

    2. Henry Moon Pie

      While we may like to think about “how I’d fix the CDC” and the policy changes that would entail, it appears to me that the audience for Walensky’s confession of CDC’s need for reform is actually the billionaires. I think the implied promise is the the CDC will never, ever advocate, even weakly, for any kind of shutdowns. Should a disease come down the pike, even be it airborne with a 50% fatality rate, we shall not lock down. The reformed CDC will always let The Market decide who lives and dies. Moreover, its focus from this point forward will openly and proudly be how to maximize the profitability of each oncoming wave of deadly infection.

      This is just more privatization, marketization, PR-ization. Neoliberal “reform.”

  10. melvin keeney

    I have a question and I don’t know the answer. Has there ever been a shot in the arm that was effective for a respiratory disease?

    1. Jeff

      Makes one wonder why the measles vaccine protects against contracting measles while the cov vaccine doesn’t do the same for cov, eh?

      Saying such a thing a year ago would’ve labeled me an anti vaxxer.

      1. Objective Ace

        From the WaPo

        By contrast, the measles virus also mutates rapidly, but the part of the virus that the immune system recognizes — and that the vaccine mimics — cannot change. That’s why, despite billions of measles vaccinations over a period of decades, the virus has been unable to escape the vaccine.

        I don’t think that’s the full story though because even early on before variants, Pfizer et all said the Covid vaccines were only 95% effective

  11. Jeff

    Wallensky and Fauci should have been s-canned a year ago. Regardless of one’s opinions on masking, vaccines, distancing, mandates, etc, these 2 incompetents crapped the bed and have trashed the reputation of public health for decades. Biden beclowned himself by miming their idiocy.

    Never say never, but it’s hard to imagine trusting the CDC or public health officials again… At any level. The crap pulled by local Los Angeles leaders like the mayor and Barbara ferrer deserve the same contempt being directed Fauci and Wallensky.

    Their scapegoating was morally reprehensible.

    1. Rip Van Winkle

      They’re primarily publicity hounds and media darlings. Let them keep throwing out the first pitch at Fenway and Yankee Stadium.

    2. Anthony G Stegman

      Fauci should have been ousted decades ago. Lots of older gay folks in SF and elsewhere are very aware of how badly he mishandled the AIDs crisis. The many AIDs quilts tell the story of Fauci’s ineptitude. He’s a master self-promoter. Infectious diseases expert? Not at all.

    3. drumlin woodchuckles

      Perhaps there is a reason to return the House to Republican Control. If a Republican controlled House devotes itself to a savage and vicious and torturously thorough set of Spanish Inquisition style hearings against Hunter Biden and his laptop, and against Fauci and every single day of his activities in the field of health, beginning with his university student career; then a Republican House will be rendering a useful service.

  12. eg

    The CDC is in the process of being shrunk so that it will be small enough to drown in a bathtub.

    Everything is going according to plan …

  13. seenopandemichearnopandemic


    What happened to the star of your Covid coverage, the user “GM” ? I have not seen any post / remarks from him for a while.

    I really hope all is well with that user (and everyone else too, of course).

    1. GM

      There hasn’t been much happening with COVID other than some new Omicron variants appearing that we will likely hear more about in the coming weeks but which will probably not cause a huge wave of severe cases that cannot be ignored.

      Right now we are basically waiting for whatever comes after Omicron, which will tell us more about the long-term future.

      1. seenopandemichearnopandemic

        Good to know all is well, GM. Thank you, and take care.

        Thank you, Yves, for this wonderful site.

      2. kareninca

        “Right now we are basically waiting for whatever comes after Omicron, which will tell us more about the long-term future.”

        It feels to me as if we are at that stage in a tsunami where the beach is exposed and people are wandering around cheerfully picking up pretty shells.

        So you aren’t worried that so many people have wrecked immune systems, that as a consequence we will get some other dire illness spreading like mad this fall??? That has been proposed as something to expect.

        I remember your predictions vividly from very early on, especially the part about it infecting people over and over and over again. Denninger said the same thing, but then for some bizarre reason he decided that natural infection would be protective (but it isn’t and won’t be, or at least not enough).

        There was just an interview by a notorious alternative covid theorist whom I won’t name, since he thinks there will be herd immunity among the unvaccinated (there won’t be). He interviewed someone named named Clas Sivertson, who lives in Taipei and manufactures medical tests. Clas hangs out with people who work in the test-making factories; they live in dorms there in huge numbers in very tight quarters. They are all hyper-vaccinated. At first the companies kept testing the workers and isolating them when they tested positive. But then they changed their approach. They instead stopped testing, and are taking at as given the the workers, who are constantly sick, do not have covid. That they must have something else. Obviously it can’t be covid, since they are vaccinated and have also had covid before.

        As an experiment Clas has been testing them. They are in fact constantly positive for covid. They are simply positive all the time. They are catching it over and over and over and over again (you can find the interview on You Tube).

        So my guess is that even if we never get anything beyond Omicron, vaccinated people (and unvaccinated people, ultimately) will get it a zillion times and then die.

  14. Sideshow Bob

    Vaccines are the rare pharmaceutical you can sell to completely healthy people. They are a valuable contribution to human health, but they must be carefully protected from greed based policies, and have a spotless record for safety or people will start to mistrust them and we will lose their full benefits.

    There are too many conflicting interests in the CDC and government around vaccines. There would be no fuel for the antivaxx fire if the regulators did a better job and appearing to care about these things.

    1. notabanker

      or people will start to mistrust them and we will lose their full benefits.

      Too late.

      Count me as one of the folks that thought anti-vaxxers were nutters for not getting kids vaccinated for polio, measles etc…

      But these mRNA “vaccines” are a whole different category, and the way this was handled leaves plenty of room for horrible motivations to manifest themselves, the very least of which is profit. Frankly, this is the stuff of sci-fi novels and it is playing out in real time with the global population. It is truly reckless and the stakes are as high as they get.

  15. Elizabeth

    If someone replaces RW, it’ still going to be very difficult to regain trust in the CDC. Once you lose trust in an organization that is supposed to protect public health, regaining credibility and trust is very difficult if not impossible. People still think the vaccines will prevent Covid. Didn’t the CDC revise the definition of a vaccine – at any rate they had to backtrack by saying your disease will be less severe if vaxxed.

    Public health in this country is responsible for. thousands (maybe hundreds of thousands) of deaths and long covid. As Lambert says, we are not a serious country.

  16. Anthony G Stegman

    Rather than a “reset”, perhaps the CDC should embark on a “transformation”. That’s the newest rage across the business world. Many of these business transformations ultimately fail, but perhaps the CDCs transformation will be a shining success. “Reset” sounds weak. “Transformation” is a serious word implying big changes.

  17. Anthony G Stegman

    Perhaps what is needed at the CDC (and many other government agencies) are cadres of skilled technocrats with real authority. The heads of the agencies can remain political appointees, but their authority should be limited; by a great deal perhaps. Wallensky should never be allowed to run roughshod over career CDC staff. By limiting her power the damage she does will also be limited.

  18. juno mas

    Yikes!! Where would I be without NC giving me the straight dope at the beginning of Covid. Dead, probably.

  19. none

    Note that if you read the patter at the time of Walensky’s elevation, her job was to get 100 million people vaccinated (and related to that, make headway in combatting vax resistance) and improve the image of the agency. These were not even remotely public health goals.

    Getting 100mm people vaxed was certainly a public health goal and it was important and it extended a lot of lives. It’s just that lots of other stuff was important too, and was ignored.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Vaccinating only part of the adult population with a vaccine whose efficacy lasted only 5 months against wild type, only somehwhat mitigated transmission of wild type, was less effective against later variants and either barely or does not at all prevent their transmission, and appears to increase vulnerability to infection 3 months after a shot is a public health failure.

  20. drumlin woodchuckles

    Walensky’s job as CDC head is to spread covid everywhere. How can she spread covid everywhere if she is not head of CDC?

    Given that, why would she ever resign? The only way she would even allow herself to be fired gracefully and peacefully is if she feels assured with total confidence that her successor will uphold the mission of spreading covid everywhere.

  21. chris

    It really is tragic how we haven’t applied anything we knew before the SARS2 pandemic to the current situation. And the mask debate above shows we’ve obscured what simple things we know could help. I have some friends who are far out there in conspiracy land. When conversation turns to Covid-19 I can’t help but go quiet because the simplest explanation for some of what’s happened is an elite conspiracy to kill and disable millions of people. But even that is too much wishful thinking… because the honest truth is probably that they knew what their actions and inaction would do and didn’t care.

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