May 19, 2021
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky Speech Transcript: Public Health Emergencies “Here to Stay”
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky’s opening statement during a congressional hearing on May 19, 2021. She said: “Public health emergencies are here to stay.” Read the transcript of her speech remarks here.
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Dr. Rochelle Walensky: (00:00)
Chairman Murray, Ranking Member Blunt, and everyone on the committee, I’m grateful for the committee’s support of the CDC. I’m here today, as you noted, with Dr. Anne Schuchat, CDC’s principal deputy director. I have enormous gratitude for Dr. Schuchat’s leadership and contributions over three decades, as well as during this very challenging period for our country, and for her rock solid support of me in my transition into this role. Anne embodies selfless public service, the pinnacle of scientific and intellectual standards, and has given her heart to our agency and the public health community. I will be forever grateful that our paths crossed, even for such a short period of time.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky: (00:42)
The COVID-19 pandemic through the United States and the world into a health, economic and humanitarian crisis. As the crisis unfolded, it put a spotlight on the fragility of our public health infrastructure. It illuminated great disparities in health outcomes by race and ethnicity, reminding us that, thus far, we have failed to address the systemic racism that results in poorer health for people of color in the United States.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky: (01:10)
I am committed to working with you, the administration, and our public health partners to ensure that every lesson from this horrible crisis is used to build a better, stronger, healthier America. I also commit to using our public health expertise and experience in partnership with the global community to move the world into a safer, healthier future. CDC’s fiscal year 2022 discretionary budget request of $8.7 billion is an increase of $1.6 billion over fiscal year 2021. The largest increase CDC has received in nearly 20 years.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky: (01:47)
The increase is focused on four critical areas: building public health infrastructure, reducing health disparities, using public health approaches to reduce violence, and defeating diseases and epidemics.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky: (02:01)
These increases build on the investments made in the COVID-19 supplements and are an important first step in addressing deficits in the public health infrastructure. COVID-19 not only exposed the vulnerabilities within the United States’ public health infrastructure, but also how underlining chronic conditions and lack of access to healthcare put too many Americans at great risk. Across the globe, we see billions of people without access to vaccines and medical care, which means that SARS COVID-2, its variants, and other infectious disease threats will continue to threaten us all.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky: (02:37)
Experts had warned for years that a pandemic of this scale was coming, and we must expect additional diseases to emerge. We need to ask ourselves, “Are we ready?” We must have a strong infrastructure that can identify and detect outbreaks at their source, and can take quick action before diseases take hold. Over the last 12 years, the United States has faced four significant emerging infectious disease threats: the H1N1 influenza pandemic, Ebola, Zika, and COVID-19. We also confronted a drug overdose epidemic, with nearly 500,000 people dying from an opioid related overdose between 1999 and 2019. This increase continued into 2020 and appeared to accelerate during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky: (03:29)
These experiences show that public health emergencies are here to stay. Each of those threats demanded a rapid and unique response, but none resulted in a sustained public health improvement. Longterm investments in flexible infrastructure will save lives and avert economic losses caused by public health emergencies and chronic public health problems. The fiscal year 2022 request makes initial investments to continue public health data modernization, build the public health workforce, enhance global health security, and strengthen our immunization infrastructure.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky: (04:08)
In addition, we are requesting funds to help states and communities be climate ready and prepare to confront new health risks, such as those associated with vector-borne diseases. The fiscal 2022 budget request also makes specific investments in programs that work to improve health equity, such as maternal mortality review committees. With these new outlined resources in this request, CDC will also significantly expand efforts to address the social determinants of health. Proposed increases will address public health problems that have been exacerbated by this pandemic, such as opioids, injury and violence, HIV and sexually transmitted diseases.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky: (04:50)
We, at CDC, are grateful for your support and look forward to working together to build a sustainable and resilient public health system that can respond effectively to emerging threats and meet the public health needs of every American. We will work tirelessly to ensure the health of this nation and the world. Thank you, Dr. Schuchat and I look forward to your questions.