A who’s who of health officials published a commentary Wednesday outlining their wish list for the incoming Biden-Harris administration, starting with their desire for the U.S. to rejoin the global public health community.
“A threat anywhere is a threat to all of us,” said Dr. Michelle Williams, dean of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and an author of the commentary, published in The Lancet.
Basic scientific research needs more government funding, according to the group, which also included former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, Democratic Congresswoman and former Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala, and Lawrence Gostin of Georgetown University.
Start the day smarter. Get all the news you need in your inbox each morning.
The writers said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention needs to be restored. The agency has endured budget cuts for decades and lost much of its international prestige during the COVID-19 outbreak, which many accused it of mishandling.
To recover, Williams said the CDC staff needs a morale boost, the agency must be provided with better digital tools to track disease outbreaks, and it should be encouraged to coordinate more closely with private industry.
“The private sector has realized that there is no economic security without public health security,” she said, which provides an opportunity for the CDC to help company leaders safely manage their businesses.
“We can do this, but we’ll need leadership at the top to say that this is a historically important institution,” she said. “CDC has played a very big role in equity issues around women’s health, around minority health, around interventions for vulnerable populations … and they have to have the resources and the talent to continue to work on those big problems.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, she said, also needs to be rebuilt to restore public trust. She cited specifically several drugs authorized for emergency use during the pandemic despite a lack of data showing their effectiveness.
FDA COVID vaccine timeline: When might a COVID-19 vaccine be authorized? FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn answers common questions
Barry Bloom, a co-author, immunologist and former Harvard school of public health dean criticized the Trump administration for dismantling the pandemic response infrastructure that previous administrations had established in the White House and said public health is an economic and national security issue as well as an personal one.
Poor health increases economic and political instability around the world which puts American security at risk, he said.
The incoming administration should rejoin the global health community, both by literally rejoining the World Health Organization, as President-elect Joe Biden has promised to do, by doubling the U.S.’s funding of the WHO, and by recommitting to global health projects like the COVID-19 Global Access Facility (COVAX), which is providing vaccines to low- and middle-income countries.
“There are many things we cannot do by ourselves, but we can do in partnership with other countries,” Bloom said. “You can’t have any control over the world if you’re uninvolved and a partner or at least at the table for a whole variety of economic, health and political agendas.”
Contributing to COVAX, he said, is one way to protect Americans from recurring outbreaks
As long as there people in the world who have COVID-19, it will continue to arrive on our shores, he noted.
“Once airplanes start flying, once people start doing commerce from around the world, it’s less than 24 hours to bring the next epidemic back to all those who are not vaccinated,” Bloom said.
Hope: Why this Harvard doctor is optimistic about US overcoming COVID-19 despite ‘epidemic of mistrust’
Williams said she sees Harvard public health faculty continuing to play a role in the rebuilding of the nation’s public health infrastructure by providing expert advice and support for government officials, as well as public commentary.
“It’s a way for us to democratize the assets that we have at elite institutions like Harvard to the world,” she said.
Climate change: World not doing nearly enough to stop ‘catastrophic’ global warming, UN report warns
The commentary also highlighted two other key issues the authors hope the Biden-Harris administration will tackle: the climate threat and growing antimicrobial resistance, which threatens to make antibiotics less protective.
Climate change poses health risks by threatening to destabilize communities and governments, create vast numbers of refugees and divert resources from public health.
“We can without making false choices be safer, more just, more equitable, healthy and sustainable,” Williams said. “That’s the undercurrent theme, that’s the wrapper of this editorial.”
Contact Karen Weintraub at [email protected]
Health and patient safety coverage at USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Healthcare. The Masimo Foundation does not provide editorial input.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Health officials lay out wish list for Biden administration: Restore the CDC, prioritize health across the globe