Former FDA chief Gottlieb says U.S. intelligence agencies should investigate virus outbreak

Former FDA chief Gottlieb says U.S. intelligence agencies should investigate virus outbreak

Former Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration Dr. Scott Gottlieb speaks at the Skybridge Capital SALT New York 2021 conference on September 15, 2021 in New York, United States.

Brendan McDermid | Reuters

Former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Dr Scott Gottlieb said U.S. intelligence agencies should be tasked with investigating emerging public health threats overseas in order to tackle future outbreaks.

Gottlieb, who also sits on Pfizer’s board of directors, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” that the public has lost faith in U.S. health agencies and called for more funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

He said identifying problematic viruses overseas and equipping CDC with better crisis mitigation resources would improve the country’s ability to counter any new infections.

“I think in the future we are not going to rely solely on voluntary information sharing by countries,” Gottlieb said in an appearance promoting his book “Uncontrollable Spread”. “We need to come in and have the capacity to collect and monitor these things, which means our foreign intelligence services are more engaged in global public health missions.”

World Health Organization officials have said they are not sure China has disclosed all of its data on the origins of Covid. Gottlieb has suggested countries today are running out of details about the disease because they fear being isolated. He said the United States had avoided involving intelligence agencies in international public health issues because the CDC feared that “anyone wearing a white coat abroad would be considered a spy.”

In addition to treating outbreaks as national security issues, Gottlieb said the CDC was unprepared for the widespread rollout of COVID tests and vaccines at the start of the pandemic. Gottlieb said shifting messages from the CDC regarding COVID prevention strategies have also undermined public confidence in the agency.

But proper management of resources, efficiency and logistics can help the CDC better manage public health emergencies, Gottlieb said.

“I think as we came out of this pandemic a lot of people lost faith in public health officials,” Gottlieb said. “They felt that the advice was not well informed, that it was not well expressed, that it was not provided in a way that we could absorb it into our lives.”

Gottlieb said the pandemic has also exposed systemic biases in healthcare, including uneven access to COVID testing and technology. Gottlieb said improving the nation’s preparedness for epidemics not only strengthens CDC and disease surveillance, it also includes finding solutions to inequalities in health care and structural damage to American society.

“If we are to make ourselves more resilient to these kinds of public health crises, we need to tackle these inequalities and do more to ensure that we receive enough health care for these people. Those who have historically been excluded from these opportunities, ”said Gottlieb.

Disclosure: Scott Gottlieb is a CNBC contributor and board member for Pfizer, genetic testing startup Tempus, health tech company Etion, and biotech company Illumina. He is also co-chair of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and the Royal Caribbean Healthy Sail Panel.

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