Point me to reporting on CDC’s shunning of WHO-approved COVID-19 test
March 16, 2020 12:05 PM   Subscribe

I’m looking for recent reporting on why the decision was made, probably by the CDC, for the US to create it’s own (initially flawed) diagnostic test for COVID-19 from scratch rather than to follow the testing guidelines that were validated by the World Health Organization back in January. I know VP Pence and the CDC did not respond to this question when posed by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), and I'm wondering if anyone can point me to reporters who are currently trying to get to the bottom of this.
posted by theory to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
People are still covering up this failure, so it's going to be close to impossible to find the "real" reasons for the failure. Various agencies are pointing at each other for the blame.

Politico has some ideas.
posted by blob at 2:28 PM on March 16


See also Science Magazine.
posted by blob at 2:29 PM on March 16


The Atlantic has been doing original reporting on this story: The 4 Key Reasons the U.S. Is So Behind on Coronavirus Testing (Mar 13) and The Dangerous Delays in U.S. Coronavirus Testing Haven’t Stopped (Mar 9).

One of the authors of the linked Politico story was on Fresh Air (Mar 12) and explicitly said
GROSS: Why didn't the U.S. use the World Health Organization's test?

DIAMOND: If you or your listeners know the answer to that, I would love to have someone tip me off because that is a question that I've been trying to solve and my colleagues have been looking to solve, too. The World Health Organization did have a working test. Someone somewhere made the decision that the U.S. was going to go its own way, and that started a chain reaction of not having a working test and then having these delays for weeks - so certainly a failure, not necessarily the worst failure but the one that started us down this path.
posted by Nelson at 3:13 PM on March 16


How South Korea Scaled Coronavirus Testing While the U.S. Fell Dangerously Behind on ProPublica might be helpful.

There's also a NYT article and a podcast featuring Seattle infectious disease expert Dr. Helen Y. Chu, whose team first detected positive results in Washington state. Apparently she was denied federal and state support.
posted by velvet winter at 6:13 PM on March 16




Coronavirus Task Force Press Conference of 3-17-2020 addressed this issue at the very end. The question was put to the President at roughly 1:20:30 in the video and the answer [1:22:06] had to do with quality control of the tests. They were reportedly "research grade" tests that were not submitted to and not approved by the FDA that were supplied to hundreds of countries in the world.
posted by Gino on the Meta at 11:57 AM on March 17






Contamination at CDC lab delayed rollout of coronavirus tests (WaPo / MSN reprint, Apr. 18, 2020 "For reasons that have remained unexplained publicly, the CDC scientists chose complexity over simplicity in the test’s design.")
posted by katra at 11:29 PM on April 21


From what I have heard about past viruses is that the CDC/FDA makes their own test every time. Rejecting tests from the WHO is nothing new. Hence why the tests the WHO makes were never submitted for approval in the first place
posted by The_Vegetables at 9:26 AM on April 22


The_Vegetables answer matches my understanding, that it might not be possible to point to the person who made the decision to not use the WHO test in the US because that was never a decision that was made, it was just how it's always been done. With Zika virus, for example, the first immunoassay validated by the WHO was developed at the CDC, the first PCR assay validated by the WHO was developed by the CDC. The CDC provided those tests to the world until private labs caught up and could produce their own tests at greater volume.

The US was not alone in developing their own SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic, once the virus genome was published any lab could begin designing a test, many did. The first diagnostic detection protocol published by WHO was developed by a group in Germany, but China, France, Japan, Hong Kong, and Thailand all developed and deployed their own tests as well. If the CDC had beat the other groups in publishing a reliable test and began manufacturing the required DNA primers and probes (without contamination), the CDC test might have been widely adopted as "the WHO test" by countries outside the US.

While not quite what you're looking for but this points in a certain direction, Health Chief’s Early Missteps Set Back Coronavirus Response (WSJ):
Mr. Azar’s declaration of a public-health emergency on Jan. 31 meant that any lab that wanted to develop a test had to first seek approval from the FDA. The FDA didn’t clear any labs to conduct testing until Feb. 29, nearly a month later. For weeks, HHS blocked efforts to allow other labs’ involvement because Mr. Azar wanted the CDC to make and distribute the nation’s diagnostic tests.
Just how the HHS declaration of a public health emergency blocked academic labs, state health systems, and commercial labs from developing their own tests is covered in more depth here, Inside the coronavirus testing failure: Alarm and dismay among the scientists who sought to help (WaPo).

So, a combination of poor leadership by Azar, institutional inertia, sunken costs, and lack of strategic planning prevented the CDC from evaluating outside tests when they saw theirs was failing.
posted by peeedro at 8:26 PM on April 22 [2 favorites]


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