FACT CHECK: Was The 2014-2016 Ebola Outbreak A ‘Pandemic,’ As Kamala Harris Claims?

Elias Atienza | Senior Reporter

During her first appearance with presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden as his running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris on Wednesday claimed the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak was a “pandemic.”

Verdict: False

Neither the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) nor the World Health Organization (WHO) labeled the Ebola outbreak a pandemic. The public health organizations described it as an epidemic.

Fact Check:

In her first joint appearance with Biden since accepting his vice presidential nominee offer, Harris made the claim that the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak was a “pandemic.” The claim came while she was making a direct comparison between the Obama administration’s response to the Ebola outbreak and the Trump administration’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Six years ago, in fact, we had a different health crisis. It was called Ebola,” she said. “We all remember that pandemic, but you know what happened then? Barack Obama and Joe Biden did their job. Only two people in the United States died. Two. That’s called leadership.”

But the outbreak was not technically labeled a “pandemic” by either the CDC or WHO. They both called it an epidemic, press releases on their respective websites show.

The CDC explains the difference between an epidemic and a pandemic on its website: “An outbreak is called an epidemic when there is a sudden increase in cases. As COVID-19 began spreading in Wuhan, China, it became an epidemic. Because the disease then spread across several countries and affected a large number of people, it was classified as a pandemic.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases described to USA Today the “general interpretation” of a pandemic as “a new pathogen that’s spreading widely throughout multiple regions of the world in which there is substantial, sustained transmission.”

The 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak largely occurred in West Africa, with 36 cases outside of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, according to the CDC. Data on the CDC website shows that there were over 28,600 total suspected, probable and confirmed Ebola cases during the outbreak, with some 11,300 people dying from the disease, including one person in the U.S. CNN reported in November 2014 that a doctor who treated Ebola patients in West Africa became the second person to die from the disease in the U.S.

“Overall, eleven people were treated for Ebola in the United States during the 2014-2016 epidemic,” the CDC website states. (RELATED: Is Kamala Harris Not Eligible To Be President?)

The WHO declared the Ebola outbreak a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern” but never labeled it a pandemic, like the organization did for the new coronavirus and swine flu. Declaring the global coronavirus outbreak a pandemic was the first time the WHO had done so for a disease outbreak since 2009, according to NPR.

The Biden campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Elias Atienza

Senior Reporter
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