White House struggles to find new leader of pandemic preparedness: Report

The White House is still searching for a director to helm a newly established office that would oversee pandemic preparedness and response efforts once the COVID-19 public health emergency ends May 11, people familiar with the matter told Politico in a May 5 report. 

The newly formed Office of Pandemic Preparedness and Response is meant to serve as a permanent command center for federal COVID-19 efforts post PHE, overseeing development of next-generation vaccines and preventing a resurgence. The office would also be responsible for the coordination of federal pandemic response efforts overall and advise the president on other public health threats. Efforts to find a director have stalled in part because of concerns over whether the office will have the influence and financial support needed to fulfill its mission, sources told Politico

Outside experts are worried the lag in securing a leader threatens the administration's plan of having a smooth handoff May 11 from the current COVID-19 response team, and that the dismantling of the current team could create a vacuum that raises the odds for missteps.

Ashish Jha, MD, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, intends to resign later this month, though a few remaining COVID-19 team members plan to transfer to the new pandemic preparedness office. 

Meanwhile, the head of the CDC plans to exit her role as director of the agency at the end of June. As states halt data collection efforts, the CDC plans to end the reporting of national COVID-19 case counts test positivity rates, and will instead shift to focusing on hospital admission levels and the percentage of COVID-19-associated deaths compared to all reported deaths. 

"Disappointed to see #covid19 data being pulled back," Megan Ranney, MD, the incoming dean of the Yale School of Public Health in New Haven, Conn., said in a May 5 tweet. "Even more, disappointed our country couldn't extend & expand the data permissions that are needed for national #publichealth response - not just for this disease, but also for others."


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