HHS’s Azar: ‘I Don’t Believe the CDC Let This Country Down’

Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar disputed claim that the Center for Disease Control let the country down on coronavirus testing in the early stages of the pandemic.

Earlier on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” White House trade advisor Peter Navarro said, “Early on in this crisis, the CDC, which really had the most trusted brand around the world in this space, really let the country down with the testing. Because not only did they keep the testing within the bureaucracy, they had a bad test. And that did set us back.”

Partial transcript as follows:

BRENNAN: The CDC has been blamed for failure and mistakes with testing. Do you take responsibility for that?

AZAR: So we were confronting a situation here that’s completely novel. There has never been a national, immediate testing regime across public and private sectors. We have had to literally build this from the ground up, Margaret. That’s what some folks don’t quite understand here, is that the CDC’s role is to develop an initial, fairly low throughput public health test that health labs will- will do for initial diagnosis. But then we count on the private sector actually to scale up these high throughput, large test capacities. And that’s what we’ve done in historic time. You know, these tests normally would take–

BRENNAN: So- so you don’t–

AZAR: –six to nine months to get.

BRENNAN: –take responsibility for any problems that the CDC has admitted to having had?

AZAR: We, you know, what did the- what problem did the CDC have? The CDC had an issue as they scaled up manufacturing of tests to get them out to about 90 public health labs. There was apparently a contamination at an end-stage there on the third part of the reagent that never led to false negatives or false positives, but that prevented some of the scale up for a couple of weeks. But that was never going to be the backbone of testing, of broad mass testing in the United States, Margaret. That depends on the companies like Abbott and Roche and Thermo Fisher for these high throughput tests.

BRENNAN: I just want to clarify because your colleague, Peter Navarro, has said that the CDC let the country down. Given the CDC reports up to you, —

AZAR: I–

BRENNAN: Do you take responsibility for that? What do you think about that?

AZAR: I don’t believe the CDC let this country down. I believe the CDC serves an important public health role. And what was always critical was to get the private sector to the table.

Follow Pam Key on Twitter @pamkeyNEN

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