Another step is to work jointly on booster shots. The F.D.A. has largely focused its reviews of booster safety and efficacy on small studies demonstrating increases in people’s antibody levels, while the C.D.C. has reviewed data from around the world on whether immunity is waning in different groups. At times, the back and forth between agency advisory committees and leadership can seem like a game of regulatory Ping-Pong.
A better approach would be for the F.D.A. and C.D.C. to jointly host a regular, open meeting to review emerging data on immunity and booster shots. Scientists at both agencies could then work out a common set of options for review, as needed, by their respective advisory committees. Agency leaders could together announce and explain their respective decisions on market authorization (by the F.D.A.) and clinical recommendations (by the C.D.C.).
An additional step is to answer the urgent questions of parents of young children. Nearly two years into the pandemic, it’s astonishing that vaccine manufacturers have become the leading source for updates about when their vaccines may or may not be available. Parents deserve to hear directly from the public health experts who are guiding the clinical trials and making critical determinations about vaccine authorization and use.
At regular briefings, C.D.C. officials could tell parents about the nature of the risk their young children face and how to reduce it, and the F.D.A. staff could explain the progress of key studies on vaccines for children under 5 and the latest expectations for the timing of regulatory review. Given the intense and understandable public interest, there is no justification for keeping such information confidential.
There are other important areas for collaboration. For example, recently authorized antiviral treatments offer enormous potential, but only if they actually reach the people who need them the most. In 2020, poor coordination over monoclonal antibodies led to delays in developing the clinical capacity to provide these treatments to patients. The agencies should be sharing information about emerging therapies early so that when products are authorized, the infrastructure to link testing with treatment is already in place.
Of course, disagreements between experts at the C.D.C. and F.D.A. may occur. In such circumstances, rather than leave the public perplexed, agency leaders could work with the Department of Health and Human Services and the White House to coordinate carefully on messaging and explain what their different perspectives mean for the pandemic response.
In addition to the immediate benefits of better collaboration between the C.D.C. and F.D.A., there is an indirect value: trust. The agencies are full of experts working incredible hours during the pandemic to save lives. The public will be reassured to see them together, connecting the latest information about the pandemic to the most effective use of tests, medications and vaccines.