CDC recruits outsiders to lead a new center on disease forecasting

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will launch a new outbreak analysis and forecast center, picking a group of outsiders from academia and the private sector to lead the new initiative. 

The Center for Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics is meant to help predict how disease spreads and act on it in in real time. It will also be charged with improving the Atlanta-based agency’s data tools, the CDC said in a statement. The goal is to have the center operational in 2022, said spokesman Ben Haynes. 

Given the timing, the new center may end up focused as much on future outbreaks as on COVID-19, though the pandemic is almost certain to still be ongoing next year. The center’s leaders include: 

  • Marc Lipsitch, a Harvard University epidemiologist who will be the director of science
  • Dylan George, an executive with Ginkgo Bioworks Inc. and a former Obama administration official who will be director of operations
  • Caitlin Rivers, a Johns Hopkins University professor who has studied the U.S. COVID-19 response and will be associate director
  • Rebecca Kahn, a Harvard University researcher who will be the center’s senior scientist

The decision to tap a group of outsiders is likely to be seen as an acknowledgment that the agency needs new tools and personnel to respond quickly to threats. The U.S. lacks a single national health system, and compared with health agencies in some other countries, the CDC has been less able to track in real-time key issues like the rise of viral variants, vaccine effectiveness and how infections are spreading.

George, the new director of operations, said in a post on LinkedIn that the group planned to “equip public health and elected leaders to make better, faster decisions during public health emergencies.” He hasn’t shied away from amplifying criticism of the U.S. pandemic response, either. He recently shared a Twitter post that called for “structural reforms to our public health infrastructure.” 

CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky said it was the first government-wide public health forecasting center in the U.S.

“We are excited to have the expertise and ability to model and forecast public health concerns and share information in real-time to activate governmental, private sector, and public actions in anticipation of threats both domestically and abroad,” she said in the agency’s statement.   

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