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


Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, speaks during the Skybridge Capital SALT New York 2021 conference in New York City, U.S., September 15, 2021.

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 to combat future disease outbreaks.

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

He stated that identifying new viruses and providing the CDC better resources for crisis management would help the country to fight any such contagions.

Gottlieb stated that it was not possible to simply rely on information being shared by countries. Gottlieb made the remarks in promotion of his book, Uncontrolled Spread. “We will need to get in to the field and be able collect and monitor these data. This means that we must engage our foreign intelligence service in the global public health mission.

World Health Organization officials stated they were not certain China had disclosed all information about Covid’s source. Gottlieb said that today’s countries are more reluctant to disclose details about diseases because they worry being isolated. The U.S. is not bringing in intelligence agencies to international public health problems because it fears that any person wearing a white jacket overseas will be considered a spy.

Gottlieb noted that, in addition to considering pandemics national security concerns, the CDC wasn’t prepared for a wide-scale rollout Covid vaccines and tests. Gottlieb also stated that public faith was undermined by the CDC’s shift in messaging regarding Covid prevention tactics.

Gottlieb believes that the CDC can be better equipped to handle emergencies in public health.  

Gottlieb stated, “I believe that people lost faith in public health officials after the pandemic.” They felt the guidance was not well-informed, poorly articulated and wasn’t communicated in a manner that could be assimilated into their lives.

Gottlieb noted that the pandemic also highlighted the biases inherent in health care, particularly for those of color. This includes inequal access to Covid technology and testing. Improving the country’s outbreak preparedness doesn’t just entail bolstering the CDC and disease surveillance – it involves finding solutions for disparities in health-care and structural disadvantages permeating American society, Gottlieb said.

Gottlieb stated that if we want to be more resilient to public health emergencies, we need to fix those inequalities and make it easier to provide adequate healthcare to those who are historically excluded from such opportunities.

Disclosure: Scott Gottlieb is a CNBC contributor and is a member of the boards of Pfizer, genetic testing start-up Tempus, health-care tech company Aetion and biotech company Illumina. He also serves as co-chair of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings′ and Royal Caribbean’s “Healthy Sail Panel.”