Why Does CDC Change its COVID-19 Guidelines?

We often hear complaints about changing recommendations from CDC and other experts we look to for guidance. But it would be more concerning if communicable disease experts weren’t learning anything from new scientific findings and new experience in the field. Weren’t learning anything that could improve our response.

I’m reminded of what it was like when my husband was in the smallpox campaign, some of which I’ve written about in my forthcoming historical memoir VACCINES & BAYONETS: Fighting Smallpox in Africa amid Tribalism, Terror and the Cold War: A wife’s story.

Watch vaccinating with the Jet injector, the bifurcated needle, and at a mass vaccination site.

 When CDC fielded the first smallpox teams in West Africa they didn’t know as much as they would know after a year in the field, and after two years in the field. They could have studied the problem to death before they made a start.

But many more lives would have been lost.

Lost while CDC studied the virus, studied the disease and studied all the elements that had to function together to fight it. Instead, they went with what they knew when they knew it.

Poster showing the jet injector – no needle, Nigeria, 1969

Disease-fighting reality in the field

Here’s an excerpt from a letter home, taken from my book.

During the mass vaccination campaigns, the vaccinators with their jet injectors could vaccinate a thousand people an hour. But now they use a newer approach developed by Dr. Bill Foege.

It’s called surveillance and containment. When one case is found, the teams descend on the area to vaccinate or re-vaccinate all the patient’s contacts. And the contacts of those contacts. Build a firewall around the virus. It’s a real race against the clock. They use the bifurcated needle rather than the Ped-O-Jet.

Carl says some of his CDC colleagues think it’s risky to switch to the new strategy, and a few grumble about the change. But the approach seems to have proven itself. He’s sold on it, especially when his teams have to intercept nomads on the move.

CDC told us they recruited men and women who are flexible and adaptable. People who will quickly change course as knowledge or conditions change.


Following the science

So today, when CDC gives new guidance on dealing with COVID-19, I expect it to be because there is new and better information. After all, we’re talking about a previously unknown virus, not one like smallpox that’s been around for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

Progress toward publication of Vaccines & Bayonets

And for those of you who’ve been wondering when this book is going to be published, I can now tell you that it’s projected to roll off the press four to six months from now. I have started a crowdfunding campaign to pay for editing, cover design, distribution and production of an audio book. If you’re interested, you can click here https://gf.me/u/y2zpwb to donate and to let others know.

Next post

Contact tracing is a hot-button issue right now. It is critical in disease fighting and was one of the most important weapons in my husband’s arsenal in the war between human and microbe. My post this weekend will again touch on that particular weapon.

Thank you for stopping by.

And please stay safe and well out there.