The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced it’s awarding an estimated $262.5 million, pending the availability of funds, over the next five years to establish a national network of 13 infectious disease forecasting and analytics centers.
The effort is being led by the CDC’s Center for Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics (CFA), which was officially launched in 2022 in response to the needs and lessons learned from the Covid-19 pandemic.
The purpose of the CFA is to “improve the nation’s ability to prepare for and respond to infectious disease threats using data, modeling, and analytics.” Often likened to the National Weather Service’s warnings of impending storms, the CFA works to understand and predict the course of infectious disease outbreaks, providing public health officials with the information they need to mitigate the spread and severity of health emergencies.
“Infectious disease outbreaks have and will continue to threaten our communities, friends and families,” said Dylan George, Director of the CFA, in an earlier agency news release. “This network will increase our national capacity to use disease models, analytics, and forecasts to support public health action, prevent infections, protect people, and safeguard economies. The network will also provide desperately needed tools to fight outbreaks quickly and effectively in our communities, where critical response decisions are made.”
CFA funding will be directed to three program components:
- An innovation component supports the development of a pipeline of new analytical methods and tools that provide epidemiological information to public health decision makers.
- An integration component takes promising approaches from the innovation pipeline and pilot tests them to gauge their success.
- An implementation component selects those pilot projects that have proven successful and scales them for use across jurisdictions.
Here are a few examples of the new CDC-supported centers.
As one of the five national innovation centers in the new network, Northeastern University in Boston will receive $17.5 million over the next five years to head a center called “EPISTORM: The Center for Advanced Epidemic Analytics and Predictive Modeling Technology.” The funds will enable Northeastern to coordinate the work of 10 research institutions, healthcare systems and private companies that will use wastewater surveillance, AI, machine learning and other predictive tools to help officials make better informed decisions during future outbreaks of infectious diseases.
Another innovation center was funded at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health. It will receive $4.5 million annually for five years to support the Atlantic Coast Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics and Analytics (ACCIDDA).
“These centers will create a national network to provide data and modeling support to public health responders as they prepare for future infectious disease outbreaks,” said Justin Lessler, co-leader of ACCIDDA and professor of epidemiology at the Gillings School. “We want to ensure that, the next time an incident like COVID-19 happens, there are known and trusted sources for modeling and data analysis that can produce relevant and valid projections.”
The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, based at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, received a five-year, $23.5 million award from the CFA to conduct a project called ”Toward Epidemic Preparedness: Enhancing Public Health Infrastructure and Incorporating Data-Driven Tools.” It will establish large-scale partnerships with traditional and nontraditional public health stakeholders across the country, as well as train public health students, practitioners, and modelers to use data analysis tools to better understand epidemics.
Researchers at the University of California San Diego have received a $17.5 million CFA award to launch a project entitled “Resilient Shield: A Network for Outbreak Data Integration and Modeling to Support Rapid Public Health Action.” The consortium includes the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency as well as experts from UCLA, UCSF, UC Riverside, Los Alamos National Laboratory and the University of Washington.
A team of researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Massachusetts Amherst will lead a project that will take the predictive tools that have proven successful during previous outbreaks and scale them for use across multiple areas. It will be led by Lauren Ancel Meyers, director of the University of Texas Center for Pandemic Decision Science, and Nicholas Reich, director of the UMass COVID-19 Forecast Hub. The five-year, $27.5 million project will include collaborations with more than two dozen other partners many of them public health agencies in Texas and Massachusetts.
The other funding recipients in the Outbreak Analytics and Disease Modeling Network (OADMN) are Emory University, Kaiser Permanente Southern California (KPSC), Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Michigan School of Public Health, the University of Minnesota, Clemson University, the University of Utah. and International Responder Systems.
Planning for CFA began in August 2021, with start-up funding of $200 million from the American Rescue Plan Act. At the time, Rochelle Walensky, who was then CDC Director, said, “I am excited we have launched CDC’s Center for Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics. This new center is an example of how we are modernizing the ways we prepare for and respond to public health threats.”