Hesham A Hassaballa's COLUMN

The Hacking of the CDC

There needs to be more security over who can publish on the CDC’s website

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When I first read the revised testing guidelines on the CDC’s website, only one word came to my mind:

HUH?

The famed CDC, the world’s premier public health agency — for which I had the greatest respect in the past — is now recommending that those who have been exposed to SARS-CoV-2 but are asymptomatic not get tested? I could not believe my eyes.

Well, it turns out, that the CDC’s scientists may not have been the authors of those new recommendations, according to the NY Times:

A heavily criticized recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month about who should be tested for the coronavirus was not written by C.D.C. scientists and was posted to the agency’s website despite their serious objections, according to several people familiar with the matter as well as internal documents obtained by The New York Times.

The article continued:

“That was a doc that came from the top down, from the H.H.S. and the task force,” said a federal official with knowledge of the matter, referring to the White House task force on the coronavirus. “That policy does not reflect what many people at the C.D.C. feel should be the policy.”

This is alarming.

I’m not being alarmist about this. The guidance published on the CDC’s website is what doctors — like me — and hospitals, healthcare systems, infection control departments, and other healthcare institutions rely upon to get the most up to date information on a variety of diseases, including Covid-19. Before this, whenever someone at the hospital told me, “CDC recommends it,” that was the end of the discussion. I took it on complete faith that the recommendations were sound.

That faith has been shaken by these new revelations. That someone other than career scientists at CDC can “drop” new documents onto the CDC’s website is unbelievable. I mean, I had my suspicions that some of what the CDC was publishing was coming from non-scientists from outside the agency. Now those suspicions have been confirmed.

Something must be done about this. More robust security protocols need to be developed by the CDC so that only scientists — and perhaps only the CDC’s Director — can sign off on and approve what the CDC publishes on its website. It used to be like that:

The Centers for Disease Control has also often been criticized during the pandemic, for being too slow and cautious in issuing recommendations for dealing with the coronavirus. That’s partly because every document is cleared by at least one individual on multiple relevant teams within the agency to ensure the information is consistent with the “current state of C.D.C. data, as well as other scientific literature,” according to a senior agency scientist who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

In all, each document may be cleared by 12 to 20 people within the agency. “As somebody who reads them regularly and as somebody who has written things with C.D.C., I can tell you that the clearance process is painful, but it’s useful,” said Carlos del Rio, an infectious disease expert at Emory University. “It’s very detail oriented and very careful and they, quite frankly, improve the documents.”

But now, with officials at HHS and others being able to “drop” documents and recommendations on the CDC’s website at will, the agency’s credibility — already incredibly damaged during this pandemic — will only suffer further. And this is no small thing. If people — especially those of us in healthcare — no longer trust the CDC, then people’s lives will be at stake, especially when the next pandemic strikes.

Something needs to be done at the CDC, and perhaps that is why this article in the NY Times was published: scientists who care about the agency and its reputation are sounding the alarm through the press. I pray that the problems at CDC are fixed, and that — at all times — science and truth always win out. People’s very lives are at stake.

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Dr. Hesham A. Hassaballahttp://drhassaballa.com
Dr. Hesham A. Hassaballa is a NY Times featured Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine specialist in clinical practice for over 20 years. He is Board Certified in Internal Medicine, Pulmonary Medicine, Critical Care Medicine, and Sleep Medicine. He is a prolific writer, with dozens of peer-reviewed scientific articles and medical blog posts. He is a Physician Leader and published author. His latest book is "Code Blue," a medical thriller.

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DR HESHAM A HASSABLLA

Medika Editor: Cardio and Pulmonary

Dr. Hesham A. Hassaballa is a NY Times featured Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine specialist in clinical practice for over 20 years. He is Board Certified in Internal Medicine, Pulmonary Medicine, Critical Care Medicine, and Sleep Medicine.

He is a prolific writer, with dozens of peer-reviewed scientific articles and medical blog posts. He is a Physician Leader and published author. His latest book is "Code Blue," a medical thriller.

Medika are also thrilled to announce Hesham has recently joined our team as an Editor for BeingWell, Medika's publication on Medium

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