Sep 21 2021

CDC Launches Forecasting Center to Help Predict Emerging Diseases

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wants to use data analytics to help it issue warnings and prepare for outbreaks.

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to be at the forefront of the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, the agency wants to be in a better position to forecast and warn of when the next one might strike.

Last month, the CDC announced it was creating a new “Center for Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics” to improve disease forecasting and public health data analytics and better inform policymakers.

In a statement, the CDC said the new center “will bring together next-generation public health data, expert disease modelers, public health emergency responders, and high-quality communications, to meet the needs of decision makers.”

The agency, which has been criticized by some for how slowly it has sometimes analyzed and shared data during the pandemic, said the new center will “accelerate access to and use of data for public health decision-makers who need information to mitigate the effects of disease threats, such as social and economic disruption” and will “prioritize equity and accessibility, while serving as a hub for innovation and research on disease modeling.”

CDC Wants to Get Ahead of Emerging Disease Threats

The center, which is launching with initial funding from the American Rescue Plan Act, will focus on three key functions.

The first is “predict,” and will focus on using modeling and forecasting, enhancing the ability to determine the foundational data sources needed, supporting research and innovation in outbreak analytics and science for real-time action, and establishing appropriate forecasting horizons.

A second function is “connect,” and the CDC said the center will work to “expand broad capability for data sharing and integration; maximize interoperability with data standards and utilize open-source software and application programming interface capabilities, with existing and new data streams from the public health ecosystem and beyond.”

The third function is “inform,” and will focus on translating and communicating the center’s forecasts to top decision-makers across government, businesses and the nonprofit world, along with “individuals with strong intergovernmental affairs and communication capacity for action.”

The center’s leaders include:

  • Marc Lipsitch, a Harvard University epidemiologist who will be the director of science
  • Dylan George, an executive with Ginkgo Bioworks and a former Obama administration official who will be director of operations
  • Caitlin Rivers, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who has studied the U.S. coronavirus response and will be associate director
  • Rebecca Kahn, a Harvard researcher who will be the center’s senior scientist

“The new center will meet a longstanding need for a national focal point to analyze data and forecast the trajectory of pandemics with the express goal of informing and improving decisions with the best available evidence,” Lipsitch said in the statement. “I am thrilled to be working with a great team at CDC to set it up, and excited to integrate the best and most innovative ideas from academia, the private sector, and government to make this a reality that will truly improve our response to future pandemics, and indeed to other infectious diseases.”

In a LinkedIn post, George says that the center “is an important step to ensure that the United States is better prepared to respond to outbreaks, epidemics, and pandemics,” and that it will “build a new capability that will equip public health and elected leaders to make better, faster decisions during public health emergencies.”

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James Gathany, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Wikimedia Commons