Incoming US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky will inherit the world’s premier health agency, tasked with how best to reestablish the CDC’s tarnished credibility after months of political interference by the White House.
Walensky, a veteran infectious diseases doctor, will assume her new role during an unprecedented time during which senior CDC leaders have felt individual pride, while also expressing disappointment as to how the agency was “muzzled during the pandemic,” a senior CDC official told CNN.
There was “incredible positive reaction” among CDC staff to Walensky’s announcement, according to several federal health officials, with one saying, “She’s an outsider, but hugely respected.”
Another described her as “brilliant.”
“It’s nice to have an infectious disease doctor this time,” the official added.
Internal calls about “how best to address credibility issues at the CDC” have been going on for weeks at the agency, according to a federal health official, even prior to the presidential election.
Throughout the pandemic, staff at the CDC expressed to CNN a general lack of confidence in current CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield’s ability to effectively communicate the agency’s message.
With Walensky set to take over, there will come a change in communication style.
She has a reputation of being “thoughtful,” one senior CDC official said.
The question is if she, like Redfield, will have to toe any political line in Washington, DC, with a new administration.
Other people initially considered for Walensky’s role by Biden’s transition team included Nicole Lurie, the former US Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Preparedness under President Obama, as well as former CDC Director Dr. Richard Besser, according to a source familiar with the early discussions.