CDC to Launch New Disease Forecasting Center

The organization, funded by the American Rescue Plan, will focus on predicting outbreaks and sharing information about them.

Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced on Wednesday that the agency is launching a new organization to focus on disease forecasting. 

The Center for Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics will be a hub for research and innovation aimed at mitigating the effects of future disease threats. Its launch comes as the federal government continues to fight the coronavirus pandemic and now the rapidly spreading Delta variant. It will build on current modeling efforts at the agency. 

“This is an amazing opportunity for CDC and public health as we stand up the country’s first governmentwide public health forecasting center,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky in a statement. “We are excited to have the expertise and ability to model and forecast public health concerns and share information in real time to activate governmental, private sector and public actions in anticipation of threats both domestically and abroad.” 

The center’s initial funding will come from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan enacted in March for coronavirus relief

Members of the leadership team will include: Dr. Marc Lipsitch, epidemiologist and Harvard University professor, as science director; Dr. Dylan George, vice president at the biotechnology company Ginkgo Bioworks, as operations director; Dr. Caitlin Rivers, epidemiologist and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, as associate director; and Dr. Rebecca Kahn, epidemiology and postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard University, as senior scientist. 

“Pandemics threaten our families and communities at speed and scale—our response needs to move at speed and scale, too,” said George. “The center will provide critical information to communities so we can respond efficiently and effectively. The U.S. desperately needs this capability, and I am grateful for the opportunity to help build it.”

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020 the United States’ public health infrastructure on the local, state and federal levels has been under scrutiny. 

Dr. Tom Frieden, president and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of the global public health organization Vital Strategies, who previously served as CDC director, testified during a House hearing in March about how to improve its public health surveillance and data systems. He called for more long-term funding. 

“The combination of a lack of federal leadership and chronically underfunded public health infrastructure both domestically and globally led to the catastrophic failure of our public health systems at all levels,” he said of the ongoing pandemic. “This contributed to the United States experiencing one of the highest per-capita mortality rates in the world.” 

The next pandemic, he said, “could happen 10 years from now, or 10 days from now— the microbes won’t wait.”