Following the perceived mishandling of the first diagnosed case of Ebola in the United States involving Thomas Eric Duncan of Liberia by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2014, there were calls within Congress and the media for the CDC director, Thomas Frieden, MD, to resign. It was believed that Dr. Frieden had not adequately communicated and enforced protocols (or that the protocols kept changing) for dealing with Ebola cases on U.S. soil, and that that had led to a nurse in Dallas, TX, contracting the disease from Mr. Duncan.1 2 3
In a tense grilling before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations on Oct. 16, 2014, Dr. Frieden received criticism from U.S. Congressman Fred Upton (R-Michigan). Congressman Upton stated:
The CDC admitted more could’ve been done in Texas. Two health care workers have become infected with Ebola even as nurses and other medical personnel suggest that protocols are being developed on the fly. And none of us can understand how a nurse who treated an Ebola infected patient and who herself had developed a fever was permitted to board a commercial airline and fly across the country. It’s no wonder that the public’s confidence is shaken. Over a month ago, before Ebola reached our shores, we wrote HHS Secretary Burwell seeking details for the preparedness and response plans here at home and abroad. And it’s clear whatever plan was in place was insufficient.4
Regarding complaints about inconsistent protocols, Congressman Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana) pointed out:
One of the biggest concerns I get from the hospitals in my district that I’ve talked to, and I’ve talked to a number of hospital officials, medical officials, professionals in my district. They’re concerned that they haven’t had consistent protocols. There have been at least four just in the last few weeks where the protocols keep changing. Now, with the nurse, the first nurse that was infected, I believe you personally said that the protocols were breached originally.4
The whole Ebola affair in 2014 has been a thorn in Dr. Frieden’s side. Deservedly or not, it has left the CDC director and his agency with a tarnished reputation and seemingly struggling to regain the public’s trust over the past two years. Consequently, while the recent revelation that Dr. Frieden will resign from his post on January 20 comes as no surprise, there will be many people who will be pleased to have a new person in charge of the CDC.
There has been no mention of who might replace Dr. Frieden, although we do know that Congressman Tom Price (R-South Carolina) has been nominated by President-elect Trump to be Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). HHS oversees a number of key health regulatory agencies, including the CDC.7 Congressman Price, who is also a medical doctor, is a strong proponent of individual autonomy when it comes to health care. He believes patients have the right to make independent choices about their health care options, with minimal intervention by government.7
Dr. Frieden has not indicated what he plans to do after he leaves the CDC. His predecessor, Julie Gerberding, MD, landed a lucrative job with pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. less than a year after her resignation as CDC director on January 20, 2009.8 9 10 Dr. Gerberding became president of Merck’s vaccine division. On Dec. 10, 2014, Dr. Gerberding was promoted by Merck to be its executive vice president for strategic communications, global public policy and population health.10
About Dr. Gerberding, Merck noted the following:
Gerberding joined Merck as president of Merck Vaccines in January 2010. Since then, Merck’s vaccines are reaching more people than ever, and Merck became the global leader in the vaccine market based on sales. In addition, the Sanofi Pasteur MSD joint venture in Europe, Merck’s European vaccine business for which Gerberding is the Board co-chair, has improved in both population reach and financial performance. She also helped lead the successful launch in India of the Merck Wellcome Trust non-profit joint venture for vaccine development, the MSD Wellcome Trust Hilleman Laboratories.10
Recruiting a former CDC chief to handle your commercial vaccine operations definitely appears to be good business strategy for a vaccine manufacturer. We’ll see where Dr. Frieden lands and how well he ends up doing.
1 Byrnes J. GOP lawmakers call for CDC director to resign. The Hill Oct. 15, 2014.
2 Alvarez M. Dr. Manny: CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden should resign. Fox News Oct. 13, 2014.
3 Vox F. Why CDC chief must go. CNN Oct. 16, 2014.
4 Cáceres M. When Public Officials are More Concerned About Getting Things Wrong Than Getting Things Right. The Vaccine Reaction Sept. 7, 2016.
5 Steenhuysen J. More work lies ahead to fight Zika, other threats: CDC chief. Reuters Dec. 30, 2016.
6 Zimmerman B. CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden to resign: 3 quotes from the outgoing leader. Becker’s Hospital Review Jan. 3, 2017.
7 Cáceres M. Nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price Supports Individual Autonomy. The Vaccine Reaction Dec. 2, 2016.
8 Goodman A. Gerberding Resigns as CDC Head. Medscape Jan 12, 2009.
9 CDC director resigns effective January 20. CNN Jan. 9, 2009.
10 Merck Announces Appointment of Dr. Julie Gerberding as Executive Vice President for Strategic Communications, Global Public Policy and Population Health. Merck (press release) Dec. 10, 2014.