Julie Gerberding, the wingnut Bushie who has driven the CDC into the ground is out come January 20. Rumor had it that she wanted to stay on, but so eager to get rid of her they are, that she isn’t even being retained until a replacement is selected and confirmed. Instead, CDC chief operating officer Bill Gimson will be acting director in the interim.
A statement from the transition team didn’t go into too much detail, stating simply that “As part of the transition process, the administration requested resignation letters from a number of senior-level officials, including Dr. Julie Gerberding. This week, the administration accepted Dr. Gerberding’s resignation, effective January 20. As Dr. Gerberding noted in a November e-mail to CDC leadership, she has always expected that she would be leaving after the administration changes.”
Gerberding took the helm of the CDC seven years ago, after the anthrax attacks, and immediately set about decimating it, ignoring science and changing the structure to one where she micromanaged everything, even things that were far outside her lane and incapacitating the agency’s ability to respond in the event of a public health crisis.
The most well-known offense she committed in her professional capacity was to rewrite the climate change testimony before congress, but to this public health veteran, that was not the worst offense, just the best known.
In no department within the CDC was her ham-fisted politicized management style more acutely felt than in the vaccine safety office.
The vaccine safety office was, until 2004, led by a charismatic Taiwanese immigrant named Robert T. Chen. Chen had moved to aggressively expanded vaccine safety measures to include a linked nationwide database of 3 percent of the country’s population that could be used to investigate possible instances of harm from vaccines. The database was key to the 1998 discovery that a new rotavirus vaccine, produced by Wyeth Co., which was later determined to cause a severe bowel disorder in about 1 in 10,000 infants who received it. The vaccine was withdrawn.
It is true that Chen didn’t always play nice with others. He frequently stroked the fur of his superiors the wrong way. This was due in part to a blunt speaking style, but on a more fundamental level, it irritated the higher-ups that he was willing to put the interests of public health ahead of those of the CDC. It was a combination of personal and philosophical conflicts that led to him being removed from his job. He now works in HIV prevention at CDC.
Vaccine safety was retooled so it had to go through Gerberding’s office, and consensus seems to be that doing so has been disastrous.
The CDC had always been independent, no matter who was in the White House. It is, after all, the nations public health service. Emphasis on PUBLIC. As in you and me. Us. Our kids, and our neighbors and our friends and our coworkers and the people who work at Costco and the Kansas City Chiefs and the cop on the beat and the bartender and the butcher and the baker. Us. The people. In the past, that is where the CDC’s focus was.
And it worked.
When was the last time an epidemic swept this country?
Our relatively disease-free existence didn’t just happen, you know. It came about because of the hard work of the public health system, led by the CDC!!! It happened because dedicated men and women have lived very focused lives, concerned only with the health and well-being of the people they serve.
Robert Davis is one of the top epidemiologists in the world, and he only lasted one year at the helm of the safety office. He couldn’t abide the politics – or answering to an unqualified political hack of a scientist that Gerberding put in charge because she wanted a “Yes, Ma’am.” I will let him have the last word.
“What’s really sad about it is, you had a few people with the power to eviscerate what I think most of the American public wants,” Davis said. “To me that was really, really shocking.”
It was to me, too. And I am doing the dance of joy that she is out. It isn’t a moment too soon, but it is almost seven years too late.