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The Next Steps for Public Health

Officials weigh in on COVID-19, infant formula shortage, health care worker burnout

June 17, 2022

The nation’s public health leaders testified this week before a U.S. Senate committee about the next phases of the pandemic, as well as the infant formula shortage and the need to protect health care workers from burnout.

The panelists before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee included CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH; Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health; FDA Commissioner Robert Califf; and Dawn O'Connell, the assistant secretary for preparedness and response.

“While COVID has been anything but predictable, today we are in a much better position to respond than we were a year ago,” O’Connell said.

Here are five takeaways from this week’s hearing:

  • A call for funding:  Without additional funding, the public health panelists said the U.S. would have to make difficult decisions and tradeoffs during the next phase of the COVID-19 response related to research and product development, vaccines, testing, and COVID-19 surveillance.
  • Addressing burnout:  The U.S. is facing a shortage of public health workers and other clinicians that has only worsened during the pandemic. The nation has a deficit of about 80,000 public health workers. Recruitment and retention initiatives are needed to support the health care workforce.
  • Broader vaccination push:  The pandemic also has created a lot of “make-up” work to ensure children enter kindergarten up to date on their vaccines beyond COVID-19 shots, Dr. Walensky said. More work is needed to establish confidence in vaccines, particularly in rural areas, she said.
  • Infant formula shortage:  As companies ramp up production, the nation’s infant formula supply continues to rise and is on track to reach adequate levels within weeks, Dr. Califf said.
  • Pediatric vaccine rollout:  The federal government has made 10 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines for young children that would ship as early as next week, pending regulatory review and final approval.

O'Connell said HHS would provide 60 days’ notice before ending the nation’s public health emergency. She said the declaration unlocks important health care system flexibilities, extends Medicaid coverage, and access to telehealth.

In addition, the public health officials said they are continuing to increase access for Paxlovid for those who are at high risk of severe COVID-19 following infection.

A replay of the hearing is available online.