Vogue: Science Not Politics: How Dr. Rochelle Walensky is Saving the CDC

“… There’s no doubt that Walensky, 51, has the scientific and intellectual chops for her new job. Besides her now-former position at Mass General, the teaching hospital of Harvard, she is a prolific author of papers on the epidemiology of HIV and, at 43, was among the youngest women ever promoted to full professor at Harvard Medical School. As Julie Gerberding, M.D.—who led the CDC from 2002 to 2009—says, ‘Her credentials and reputation are impeccable. It’s clear that the Biden administration played an ace in this decision.’ It’s also clear Walensky will bring much-needed compassion to a nation reeling from the trauma of the last year. ‘She’s an interesting choice,’ says Ingrid Bassett, M.D., an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, who counts Walensky as one of her mentors. ‘It shows that they understand the messenger is just as important as the message. She’s warm, she’s kind, you feel she wants to make the world a better place. People are ready to feel that sense of trust in the messenger.’”

“The CDC was founded in 1946 to combat malaria in the South, which is why the main campus is located in Atlanta. In the years since, it has evolved into a revered institution entrusted with protecting the country’s health. ‘I know it doesn’t roll off the public’s tongue,’ Walensky says, ‘but I rely on it for everything I do. If you type c in my Google search bar, the first thing that comes up is the CDC website.’ For all those reasons, its missteps in this pandemic year have been acutely painful for the scientific community. First the CDC stumbled by producing a flawed COVID-19 test early on. More recently, whistleblowers have revealed the extent to which politics have interfered with the agency’s delivery of medical advice. Health memos from the CDC were being edited by the likes of Kellyanne Conway and Ivanka Trump. Lifesaving practical advice was simply ignored—when the agency sought to issue a nationwide requirement that masks be worn on all public transportation last September, the White House blocked it without discussion.”

“Among the agency’s 13,000 or so employees, these have been dark days. Former chief Gerberding has received phone calls from employees she once worked with wondering if they could maintain their sense of integrity in such an environment. ‘I am not concerned about what’s going on underneath the politicization,’ she says. ‘These are the same heroic scientists who did such a fantastic job on SARS and containing Ebola. They are still there.’ Walensky concurs. ‘I am not going to say there weren’t missteps, but for the most part [the scientists] have been incredible.’ Nevertheless, getting politics out of science will be her first goal. ‘Political people cannot influence science,’ she says simply. ‘If they do, I won’t be there…’” Read the full article here.

Source: Science Not Politics: How Dr. Rochelle Walensky is Saving the CDC – By Rebecca Johnson, February 5, 2021. Vogue.

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