Exclusive: US seeks to expand Trump-era COVID data collection under CDC

A large vaccination site is shown as people with pre-existing health conditions access vaccination during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Inglewood, California, United States, March 15, 2021 .REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

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March 14 (Reuters) – The Biden administration wants to expand a federal COVID-19 tracking system created during the pandemic to provide a more detailed view of how respiratory and other infectious diseases affect patients and hospital resources, under proposed draft rules reviewed by Reuters.

The plan would rely on a hospital data collection system designed by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) during the Trump administration. Management of the program was transferred last month to HHS’ lead public health agency, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The change comes amid criticism of the CDC’s changing public health guidelines during the pandemic and its ability to collect and analyze COVID data in a timely and transparent manner.

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Authorization for the current hospital data tracking program is due to expire once the government lifts the national pandemic state of emergency.

The proposed plan would ensure it remains in place for the long term and would add new requirements to the roughly 6,200 participating hospitals, such as providing data on the number of patients with flu-like illnesses and other illnesses with pandemic potential. in addition to COVID and the flu.

Such reporting would be a condition of hospitals’ participation in the federal Medicare and Medicaid health insurance programs for elderly and poor Americans.

Hospitals would be required to provide data — without names — on patients’ vaccination status, pre-existing conditions, age, ethnicity and other details that would shed light on health outcomes among diverse populations.

Beth Blauer, who leads the Pandemic Data Initiative at Johns Hopkins University, called the proposed plan a “big game changer” and “rebuilding trust in the CDC.”

“There are fears that when the pandemic emergency lifts, the data flow will dry up,” she said. “That’s what they (CDC) were designed to do.”

The rules are being reviewed by the White House Office of Management and Budget, which is expected to release them for public comment before they are finalized. CDC officials declined to comment on the proposed data expansion.

However, the proposed changes have raised concerns among some administration officials.

“There is simply no sign that any thought has been given to how the CDC can up its game enough to enable real-time sharing of information that informs the public beyond just the federal government. “said a senior Biden administration official familiar with the debate over the proposal who was not authorized to speak about it.

The CDC said in a statement that the agency continues to partner with HHS “to ensure data is available and accessible.”

HIGH-LEVEL BENEFITS

The HHS Protect system was created in 2020 under the direction of Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the coronavirus task force for the Trump White House, at a cost of tens of millions of dollars. It quickly became an efficient clearinghouse for daily hospital data on coronavirus infections and deaths.

At the time, CDC officials admitted that the agency could not quickly adapt its National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN) reporting system to collect additional hospital and medical inventory data needed to inform decision-making. in the event of a pandemic. As a result, the CDC recommended that HHS develop a new system for this purpose, according to documents reviewed by Reuters.

The CDC said the decision was based on the lengthy regulatory review that would have been required to modify its own reporting system, among other factors.

“This was in no way an acknowledgment of the inadequacy of the NHSN,” CDC chief of staff Sherri Berger said in an email.

More recently, the CDC has experienced several high-profile setbacks in reporting its data, including overstating the benefits of COVID booster shots for young people and failing to track and timely release data on breakthrough infections among young people. vaccinated.

Blauer and other experts said the CDC was the appropriate agency to oversee the data program. Some noted that it received an additional $500 million under the US bailout to further modernize its data collection.

“What we really need to do,” said Dr. Celine Gounder, a member of the Biden administration’s transition team, “is hold them accountable for what happens next.”

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Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago and Marisa Taylor in Washington; Editing by Michele Gershberg and Bill Berkrot

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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