PANDEMICSWhat Have We Learned from COVID-19? Apparently Not Much

By Pandora Report

Published 29 November 2022

Even if it were true that COVID-19 is no longer a major part of our lives, the fact still remains that these numbers are as high as they are because of how poorly the US responded to the pandemic. This boom and bust funding cycle clearly does not work for public health.

This week has had a lot of more of the same old frustrating updates and conclusions in terms of COVID-19 and our preparedness for future global health threats. The WHO’s Global Vaccine Market Report for 2022 found that, “Despite progress in recent decades, global market vaccine dynamics are not fully conducive to the development, supply and access for vital vaccines for public health,” limited profit potential continues to hamper investment in vaccines labeled priorities, and (you guessed it) “Lower-income countries have struggled to access critical vaccines – such as against COVID-19 in 2021 and cervical cancer vaccine – that are in-demand by wealthier countries.” While countries like the US have had the luxury to hold onto excess vaccine doses throughout the pandemic, others have gone without. However, as most are keenly aware, this has been far from indicative of a stable situation in the US health system.

Kaiser Health News reported this week that the roughly 4,000 epidemiologists, communication specialists, and public health nurses hired by the CDC Foundation to augment local and state health departments nationally will lose their jobs as the foundation’s $289 million in COVID-19 relief funding runs dry. Pierce Nelson, a spokesperson for CDC Foundation (an independent non-profit that supports CDC), indicated that no more than 800 of these 4,000 hires would remain in their positions. This means many local and state health departments are facing serious staffing shortages as we face a potential winter surge in COVID-19 cases, a concerning start to flu season coupled with lagging vaccination ratesexploding STI rates, and growing calls for a health emergency declaration with more than 3/4 of US pediatric hospital beds occupied in large part because of this year’s explosion of RSV cases.

While the administration has largely moved on from treating COVID-19 like an active emergency, leaving a slim chance of 4,000 professionals hired using COVID-19 emergency funds keeping their jobs, this points to a much large problem-public health is chronically underfunded in the United States. Those 4,000 are dwarfed by the at least 80,000 new public health employees estimated to be required nationally to allow state and local department to consistently offer a minimal level of services. In 2020, just 28 percent of local health departments had an epidemiologist or statistician on staff.