Infectious Disease Expert, AIDS ‘Leader’ Julie Gerberding to Be Named CDC Director
According to Bush administration officials, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson today will name Dr. Julie Gerberding -- an "early leader in [the] fight against the AIDS epidemic" -- as the CDC's next director, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Perlman, San Francisco Chronicle, 7/3). Gerberding, who currently serves as the agency's acting deputy director for science and public health, does not need to be confirmed by the Senate and her appointment will take effect immediately. The CDC has been without a director since Jeffrey Koplan resigned March 31 (Weiss, Washington Post, 7/3). Gerberding, who will be the agency's first female director, earned her bachelor and medical degrees at Case Western Reserve University and received a master's degree in public health from the University of California (Leary, New York Times, 7/3). For more than 10 years during the 1980s and 1990s, she worked as an infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist at the University of California-San Francisco and at San Francisco General Hospital. During that time, Gerberding "gained an international reputation for developing drug regimens to protect health care workers" from HIV infection through accidental needlestick exposures, the Post reports (Washington Post, 7/3). More recently, Gerberding "rose to national prominence" and "earn[ed] praise from politicians and public health groups for her straightforward style and expertise" as a CDC spokesperson during last fall's anthrax attacks (Garvey, Los Angeles Times, 7/3).
One of Gerberding's immediate challenges as director will be to "balance the CDC's newly increased vigilance on bioterrorism with longstanding commitments to public health causes," including HIV/AIDS, smoking cessation and immunizations, the Wall Street Journal reports (Brooks, Wall Street Journal, 7/3). The CDC has received an additional $2 billion in funding for bioterrorism preparedness for the coming fiscal year, but many of the agency's other programs are facing budget cuts (Los Angeles Times 7/3). Gerberding said that she supports President Bush's creation of a cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security and that she will "make it work" between the CDC, which is currently part of HHS, and the new department, which will absorb some of the agency's responsibilities (Washington Post, 7/3). Observers also hope Gerberding will help "ease tensions" between her employees, who are sometimes viewed as "headstrong and too independent," and HHS "top bureaucrats" and NIH scientists, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (San Francisco Chronicle, 7/3). The Post reports that Gerberding has "strong support" from CDC employees.
Many government officials and former colleagues praised Gerberding's pending appointment yesterday. Anthony Fauci, head of NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said, "She's a consensus-type person. She works well with people. She's very bright. I think it's just a superb choice" (Washington Post, 7/3). Dr. James Curran of Emory University, who is the CDC's former AIDS chief, said, "She's somebody who has been able to withstand the pressure and take the heat and always use good science-based judgment to make decisions," (Neergaard, AP/Newark Star-Ledger, 7/3). Georges Benjamin, president of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, said, "She certainly has done HIV/AIDS. And if you've done HIV/AIDS, then you've done everything there probably is to do in medicine" (Palca, "All Things Considered," NPR, 7/1). But some advocacy groups criticized Gerberding's past decisions. Dr. Peter Lurie of Public Citizen's Health Research Group said, "She has never been a strong enough advocate for HIV protection [for] health care workers. Her past record provides us with no reassurance" (New York Times, 7/3). James Dobson, president of Focus on the Family, added that his group was "baffled" by the selection of Gerberding, who he said opposes Bush's "stated priorities" of abstinence-based education and limiting needle-exchange programs for injection drug users (Focus on the Family release, 7/2).
NPR's "All Things Considered" yesterday reported on Gerberding's appointment. The full segment is available in RealPlayer Audio online ("All Things Considered," NPR, 7/2).