Anita Patel, who previously served as a senior advisor at CDC, speaks at the Service to America Medal awards on Tuesday night. Patel was part of a team that was honored for its work distributing COVID-19 vaccines.

Anita Patel, who previously served as a senior advisor at CDC, speaks at the Service to America Medal awards on Tuesday night. Patel was part of a team that was honored for its work distributing COVID-19 vaccines. Joshua Roberts / Partnership for Public Service

Coronavirus Roundup: A CDC Team Is Honored for Its Vaccine Distribution Work

There’s a lot to keep track of. Here’s a list of this week’s news updates and stories you may have missed.

The nonprofit Partnership for Public Service hosted its annual Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals (the “Sammies”) on Tuesday evening, during which a trio from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention won the COVID-19 response award for their work starting in mid-2020 designing and implementing a plan to distribute COVID-19 vaccines across the country and to inform the public about them before the vaccines were even available. 

“Thanks to the efforts of the CDC’s task force—which at its peak had more than 700 full-time members and, overall, benefited from the work of more than 1,500 people—more than 570 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in the United States,” said the Partnership. “This occurred with regular public communication and new levels of data-sharing among local, state and federal levels about safety issues, and strategies to reach new populations approved for vaccination.”

Dr. David Fitter, an epidemiologist at the CDC who co-led the vaccine distribution task force, told Government Executive at the event that “we get to represent thousands of people who worked on this together.”

CDC’s Dr. Amanda Cohn said the ceremony and seeing all the winners “makes you really proud to work for the federal government.” Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed. 

The Justice Department announced on Tuesday federal criminal charges against 47 defendants for their alleged part in a $250 million fraud scheme exploiting a federally funded program meant to feed underserved kids in Minnesota during the pandemic. “These indictments, alleging the largest pandemic relief fraud scheme charged to date, underscore the Department of Justice’s sustained commitment to combating pandemic fraud and holding accountable those who perpetrate it,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland, in a statement. “In partnership with agencies across government, the Justice Department will continue to bring to justice those who have exploited the pandemic for personal gain and stolen from American taxpayers.”

On Wednesday, the Justice inspector general office released a report on how the department’s criminal division and Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys managed and coordinated pandemic-related allegations and referrals. “While [both] have provided guidance, training, and policies to their prosecutors, they can better leverage the limited resources available to address fraud by enhancing the tracking, management, and notification of fraud referrals and initiated cases,” said the report. “We also identified successful prosecutorial practices employed by various USAOs, which, once shared by EOUSA across the districts, could further improve the Department of Justice’s response to pandemic-related fraud.” 

Following testing failures early in the pandemic, the Food and Drug Administration “has an opportunity to better plan for and respond to current and future public health emergencies,” the Health and Human Services Department watchdog said in a report published this week. One recommendation is “prior to the next emergency, FDA should work with key stakeholders in the lab community… to determine how to communicate during and in advance of a public health emergency,” said the report. Another is “FDA should develop technical guidance and educational material [for test developers] to ease some of its workload during any current and future emergency response and to ensure that these resources are available to developers as early in an emergency as possible.” The FDA agreed with all six recommendations from the IG. 

The Pandemic Response Accountability Committee issued a risk advisory this week warning of potential identity theft of minors and elderly individuals in the Housing and Urban Development’s housing assistance programs to apply for the Small Business Administration’s COVID relief programs. “The PRAC’s Pandemic Analytics Center of Excellence identified possible identity or other fraud in one or more of these SBA programs involving 945 minors (under 18 years old) and 231 elderly individuals (80 years and older),” said the advisory. “While we understand that the information may not involve fraud or identity fraud in all instances, we are offering to provide the supporting data directly to SBA because it strongly indicates that further SBA management review is warranted.” 

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