ICT Exclusive: Deborah Birx, MD, Discusses the End of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency

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“It doesn't matter if the public health emergency goes away or not. Because we haven't taken advantage of the public health emergency over the last 2 years to understand and address the gaps quite apparent to every American out there.”

The COVID-19 Public Health Emergency has been declared over. But that doesn’t mean that COVID-19 and the need for assistance for the effects of COVID-19 are over. Where do we go from here? Infection Control Today® (ICT®) contacted Deborah Birx, MD, for her input, based on her work with global HIV initiatives.

Birx is a renowned medical expert and leader with extensive experience in clinical and basic immunology, infectious disease, pandemic preparedness, vaccine research, and global health. She has served the United States as an Army Colonel and has overseen influential programs at the CDC and US Department of State. Birx is a formal Ambassador-at-Large and is currently a Senior Fellow at George W. Bush Institute in Dallas, Texas.

In the discussion, Birx discusses what she thinks the government did right, did wrong, and what still needs to be done going forward. One theme runs through the conversation: “If you give people the information and empower them, they'll make the right decisions, but we're not giving people the information and empowering them to make the right decisions.”

About the Public Health Initiative, Birx remarked, “It doesn't matter if the public health emergency goes away or not. Because we haven't really taken advantage of the public health emergency over the last 2 years to understand and address the gaps that are quite apparent to every American out there.”

About masks, Birx says, “I think the masking issue has demonstrated how important it is in aerosolized respiratory disease and how it may be less important and more droplet transmission that may still be more surface and direct contact with individuals.”

About vaccines, she told ICT, “I'm going to be very clear: these vaccines were a miracle. They saved literally hundreds of thousands of American lives. But they're not perfect. They're far from perfect. And we have not been clear to the American public about their imperfection. I think because of that, people aren't clear on what these vaccines can do and can't do.”

Birx is optimistic about the world’s ability to handle future pandemics. “All of these things are addressable. We are incredibly smart in the United States and around the globe; we know how to make highly technical things fast. [So,] we need to figure out how we work effectively with communities to give them the information they need to do their own risk-benefit analysis, and [so] they don't feel like the federal government is misleading them with partial truths. There is never a reason to withhold information for fear that the American people will not understand it. That's how you lose the public. And that's been very well demonstrated in COVID-19.”

(Birx’s quotes are edited for clarity. Listen to the full interview for more of Birx’s views.)

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