Image copyright CDC Image caption CDC chief Brenda Fitzgerald was praised by President Trump for being at “100 percent” the completion of her term
In 2016, as the number of US citizens infected with Ebola was on the rise, Brenda Fitzgerald was talking about preparing for the next epidemic.
The director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told the New York Times: “I’m convinced that we’ll never have another Ebola outbreak here in the United States.”
Even when the virus proved to be far deadlier, Ms Fitzgerald was very confident. She was as certain that even if the US was hit by a deadly epidemic in the future, it would do everything in its power to control it.
But when it happened in the US last year – the biggest ever outbreak of the disease in the country – the lack of preparation by Ms Fitzgerald to stop it, her successor is now discovering, left Americans in the dark and made the response far more painful and damaging.
When the CDC director ordered antibiotic booster pills for doctors and nurses caring for people who have had contact with the ill with Ebola last September, she was advised not to.
To those advising the CDC chief, the deadly virus still hadn’t been confirmed, and there was no confirmation that the three people in question still had Ebola. In fact, none of the staff doctors whose bags were being changed for the three were proven to have been exposed to the virus yet.
Image copyright CDC Image caption The CDC has now admitted to doing this without authorisation from either the CDC or the White House
Instead, Ms Fitzgerald – at her last public meeting as the CDC director – has overruled her own expert panel and recommended those high-risk employees take the drugs anyway.
“The drug is effective and its potential to prevent complications was discussed at length during the public health guidance review,” she told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
Image copyright White House Image caption White House has said that a review is now underway of how the CDC worked
“The sole purpose of this guidance was to explain that doctors and nurses caring for patients with apparent Ebola symptoms may need to administer the booster medicines,” she added.
The controversy has prompted apologies from the CDC chief and others – including Donald Trump – for the decisions the agency has made. She has even admitted that there was a lack of clarity within the CDC.
“There was some ambiguity,” she told lawmakers last week. “For example, I didn’t have clear instructions as to how I was supposed to communicate this guidance to clinicians across the country.”
When it comes to advice, the US president has declared the CDC ‘100 percent, absolutely a real disaster’
According to The New York Times, the CDC director personally decided to recommend the syringes of antibiotics. In a paper published in the Journal of Clinical Nurse Medicine, she concluded that “draconian actions like refusing to provide medical care may substantially increase the risk of the disease’s relapse”.
Though it has apologised for recommending the medicine, the CDC has now admitted to doing this without authorisation from either the CDC or the White House, and that many members of the CDC advisory board had told them that they were concerned about the safety of the medication.
In the wake of the disaster, Republican Senators Chuck Grassley and Roy Blunt have commissioned a review, which is now in progress.
The White House, meanwhile, has said that a review is now underway of how the CDC worked.
But, come September, there will be a new CEO at the CDC. It is far from clear that anyone in the body will have been able to undo the damage done by Brenda Fitzgerald over the past several months.