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Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Hearing with CDC Director Dr. Mandy Cohen

Dec 08, 2023 | Dalia Karadsheh

On Thursday, November 30, 2023, the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee held a hearing titled “Unmasking Challenges CDC Faces in Rebuilding Public Trust Amidst Respiratory Illness Season.” The sole witness of the hearing was the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Mandy Cohen. This hearing marked the first opportunity for Congress to hear Dr. Cohen testify since she was appointed as the new director of CDC in July of 2023.

In his opening statement, Subcommittee Chair Morgan Griffith (R-VA) said this hearing’s purpose was to learn how CDC is responding to the ongoing respiratory virus season and, more precisely, how CDC will help mitigate the shortage of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) immunizations for all infants. The Energy and Commerce Committee Chair, Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), also emphasized this point. Both members highlighted the issue of public trust in the agency in their opening statements. The hearing allowed Dr. Cohen to share how CDC plans to rebuild public confidence in the agency after the COVID-19 pandemic. Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) agreed that this is an opportunity for CDC to restore transparency and issue clear, practical, and consistent guidance with the latest science.

Subcommittee Ranking Member Kathy Castor (D-FL) stated that one of CDC’s strengths is its collaboration with state and local communities. She also noted that strong public health partnerships and infrastructure are the best defense against disease. Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ), ranking member of the full Energy and Commerce Committee, echoed Representative Castor’s point while further emphasizing CDC’s important role in administering and distributing vaccines. He also mentioned that Congress should ensure that CDC is well-resourced and has adequate authority, and he emphasized the need for House members to reauthorize the Pandemic All-Hazards Preparedness Act (PAHPA). Representative Pallone stressed that this reauthorization would be evidence Congress is taking a step forward in the right direction by applying lessons learned from the pandemic. CDC needs resources to streamline and coordinate data to provide the public with timely recommendations and guidance.

Dr. Cohen began her testimony by describing CDC as a national security asset that protects public health with crucial data and research. She called attention to CDC’s efforts to take action in response to this year’s respiratory season through three domains. The first is CDC’s ability to detect and respond to health threats rapidly. With the current respiratory infection season underway, CDC is taking action to provide timely and transparent updates to help individuals make informed decisions about the three major circulating viruses: COVID-19, flu, and RSV. CDC provides information through its website on the status of each of the three viruses regarding the peak of infection, number of hospitalizations, and deaths. She noted that COVID-19 remains the primary cause of hospitalization and deaths among all three viruses. Dr. Cohen gave an example of the importance of collaboration with state and local jurisdictions in disease surveillance. She continued by highlighting how the agency is now using innovative tools to quickly detect disease trends through wastewater surveillance that can help translate data into action.

The second domain Dr. Cohen mentioned was providing timely, common-sense, evidence-based solutions to protect and improve health. She discussed CDC’s guidance, recommendations, and approval for all three significant immunizations for the fall and winter seasons, which are safe and effective in protecting against severe illness and death.

The last domain that Dr. Cohen discussed is the need to build a robust infrastructure and a system capable of responding to future pandemics. She emphasized that a public health data system integrated with health care and jurisdictional partners is needed for an effective public health system, and that new policies and resources are needed from Congress to continue to access the data required to achieve public health security.

Members of the Subcommittee asked questions pertaining to the current vaccine shortage of RSV for infants, CDC’s plans to work with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and manufacturers to mitigate shortage issues, and the impacts of school closures on education. Numerous members also asked Dr. Cohen about the agency’s efforts on improving vaccination rates, lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, and CDC’s plans to ensure they are ready to combat future public health emergencies. Dr. Cohen affirmed that CDC aims to focus on transparency to rebuild trust, operational excellence, requiring collaboration between federal, state, and local levels, and building relationships to ensure healthcare and public health work collaboratively as one team.


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