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The CDC's new forecasting center aims to predict pandemics, just like the weather

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Today, the Biden administration opened a new center billed as the equivalent of the National Weather Service, but for disease outbreaks. NPR health correspondent Rob Stein has the story.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Throughout the pandemic, the coronavirus has repeatedly blindsided the nation, as dangerous new variants suddenly erupted like hurricanes that seemed to come out of nowhere or tsunamis no one saw coming. So the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has created the Center for Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics to try to prevent that from ever happening again. Here's CDC director Rochelle Walensky.

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ROCHELLE WALENSKY: Early on, the center will determine the outbreak risk and its potential to reach epidemic status.

STEIN: Just like the Weather Service can spot nor'easters and tornadoes early and issue alerts to close schools, mobilize plows and make sure people take cover. Here's Dylan George, who's running the new center.

DYLAN GEORGE: We would try to influence decisions as big as making a new vaccine all the way down to as targeted and individual as - should I go to the movie theater right now, and is it too high a risk for me? So that's the kind of vision that we're moving forward in using this analogy for the National Weather Service.

STEIN: But officials acknowledge that there's a long way to go to make this a reality. First of all, the CDC has to figure out how to gather all the data it needs, and some worry the $200 million funding the center is far from enough. Bruce Gellin is at the Rockefeller Foundation's Pandemic Prevention Institute.

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BRUCE GELLIN: To be truly successful, we need global collaboration to ensure we are able to see signals all around the world. Only with a truly global system will we see a pandemic-free future.

STEIN: So the dream of making pandemics as predictable as the weather may take some time to come true.

Rob Stein, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rob Stein is a correspondent and senior editor on NPR's science desk.

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