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Embracing Science and Safeguarding Public Health: Federal Progress and Challenges in Q3 2023

During the third quarter of 2023, U.S. public health policy continued forward in the fight against infectious diseases, while regulatory debates and agency guidelines exhibited some friction. Rep. Paul Tonko reintroduced the Scientific Integrity Act, while various agencies invited public feedback on draft scientific integrity policies. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) met resistance regarding its approach to controlling infectious disease transmission within hospitals.

In July, Rep. Tonko and several colleagues reintroduced the Scientific Integrity Act. This innovative legislation seeks to integrate scientific integrity policies into law and prohibit instances of political interference with scientific work. To address concerns about political interference and the necessary durability of these policies, the bill has garnered bipartisan support.

Notably, the Biden-Harris administration didn’t wait for legislative action. President Biden issued a memorandum shortly into his presidency, mandating all agencies to embrace new scientific integrity policies or enhance their current ones. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), for instance, invited commentary on its draft policy in July. It received mixed reviews from eleven organizations, who praised certain aspects but also offered recommendations aimed at strengthening the policy.

In the late summer, the CDC’s Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee (HICPAC) encountered significant opposition. The bone of contention was HICPAC’s impending guidelines for hospital infection control, seemingly downplaying the differences between surgical masks and N95 respirators, and overlooking the role of ventilation in protecting healthcare workers from airborne infectious diseases. Experts from diverse disciplines called for a more transparent guideline process, reflecting the latest knowledge on preventing airborne pathogen transmission.

Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first over-the-counter birth control pill, named Opill, following the advisory committee’s recommendation. This decision came amidst concerns about whether the FDA had paid sufficient attention to concerns expressed by staff and advisory committees for other drug approvals.

Looking towards the next quarter, the CDC and HICPAC are expected to push for more transparent policy-making, with their next meeting scheduled for November. In other developments, the Opill manufacturer, Perrigo, expects the pill to be commercially available by early 2024.

In light of this, the choices made by the FDA and CDC underscore the need for continued focus on scientific integrity and a judicious approach in the face of disagreements. The coming months will likely see more agencies releasing draft policies for public review, marking an interesting period for regulatory oversight across healthcare and scientific policy.


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