Dr. Rochelle Walensky, infectious diseases chief at Massachusetts General Hospital, has been tapped by President-elect Joe Biden to serve as the new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Biden-Harris transition team announced the decision in a press release Monday morning, along with several other key members of the health team, including Xavier Becerra’s nomination to serve as Secretary of Health and Human Services and Dr. Vivek Murthy’s nomination to serve as Surgeon General of the United States. Walensky’s post does not need to be confirmed by the Senate.
She will replace Dr. Robert Redfield and will be tasked with rebuilding the federal agency at a time when the pandemic is worsening nationwide and a vaccine is imminent. Under President Trump, the CDC’s handling of the nation’s response to addressing the public health crisis has been regarded as both ineffectual and politicized.
Walensky is also a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and is well-known for her work on AIDS and HIV.
On Twitter Monday, Walensky said she was “honored” to be named to the post and vowed to “combat this virus with science and facts.”
I began my medical career at the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis, and I've spent my life ever since working to research, treat, and combat infectious diseases.— Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH (@RWalensky) December 7, 2020
I'm honored to be called to lead the brilliant team at the CDC. We are ready to combat this virus with science and facts.
The selection of Walensky as the agency’s leader was first reported by Politico. Soon after the news broke, a tidal wave of reactions from the medical community surfaced on social media, with a number of people praising the choice.
Here’s a look at what physicians, epidemiologists, and others had to say.
Beth S. Linas, an infectious disease and digital health epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, said Biden could not have picked “a MORE outstanding #womaninMedicine to lead” the CDC.
“This is a truly a great [day] for #publichealth,” Linas wrote in a tweet. “I’m fired up for the future of @CDCgov! Put me to work!”
Dr. Paul Sax, clinical director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, wrote in a tweet that “one of the great things about the @JoeBiden appointments so far is that they have been based on talent, character, and achievements.”
In his tweet that linked to an article on Walensky’s appointment, Sax wrote: “Here’s a prime example.”
Dr. Michael Mina, an immunologist, physician, and epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said that science, reason, and care all embody Walensky, “one of our nation’s leading [infectious disease] physicians.”
“We are going to be in good hands!” Mina wrote in a tweet. “If you know Rochelle, you know how much better 2021 will be for the US #COVID19 response.”
We are going to be in good hands!— Michael Mina (@michaelmina_lab) December 7, 2020
Science, Reason, Care embody one of our nations leading ID physicians - now becoming CDC Director.
If you know Rochelle, you know how much better 2021 will be for the US #COVID19 response.https://t.co/kTrr6v3sp2
Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency physician at Brown University’s Alpert Medical School, said that she was “thrilled” by the news and that there was light “on the horizon.”
“I’m so excited to see our nation’s preeminent #publichealth organization move back into its role as a leader of honest research, communication, [and] action,” Ranney wrote in a tweet.
Redfield, the current director of the CDC, has found himself repeatedly in the spotlight for appearing to bow to the will of Trump in how the agency has handled the nation’s response to the pandemic — with public health experts at times infuriated with his leadership.
Light on the horizon!! Thrilled that @RWalensky has been named to Director of @CDCgov 👏— Megan Ranney MD MPH 🗽 (@meganranney) December 7, 2020
I'm so excited to see our nation's preeminent #publichealth organization move back into its role as a leader of honest research, communication, & action
Dr. Peter Jay Hotez, dean for the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and co-director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, offered his “heartfelt congratulations” to Walensky in a tweet.
“Looking forward to helping in any way,” Hotez wrote. “A tough job but a good choice.”
Julia Marcus, an infectious disease epidemiologist and associate professor at Harvard Medical School, said the news of Walensky’s appointment sent her into “a sort of public health euphoria.”
“It gives me such hope to know that someone as brilliant, kind, and fearless as @RWalensky will lead the restoration of our preeminent public health agency,” Marcus wrote in a tweet. “Welcome back, @CDCgov!”
This news has sent me into a sort of public health euphoria. It gives me such hope to know that someone as brilliant, kind, and fearless as @RWalensky will lead the restoration of our preeminent public health agency. Welcome back, @CDCgov! https://t.co/xQwu9ivgcL— Julia Marcus, PhD, MPH (@JuliaLMarcus) December 7, 2020
Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases consultant and general internist at the Toronto General Hospital, said the decision was a “terrific choice.”
“She’s a powerhouse — they are in great hands,” Bogoch wrote.
Dr. Vin Gupta, a pulmonary and critical care physician and an affiliate assistant professor at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, said he was “thrilled by the selection” of Walensky to lead the CDC.
“This is the type of health appointment that gives us all confidence that frontline clinicians with clear covid expertise through lived experience will be steering us ahead,” Gupta wrote in a tweet.
Congratulations Dr Walensky @RWalensky. Thrilled by your selection.— Vin Gupta “😷!” MD (@VinGuptaMD) December 7, 2020
This is the type of health appointment that gives us all confidence that frontline clinicians with clear covid expertise through lived experience will be steering us ahead. https://t.co/OvHpfhxo9H
Dr. Jason H. Wasfy, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and medical director of the Mass General physicians organization, said there “literally could not be a more inspired choice for CDC director than Rochelle Walensky.”
“SUCH wonderful news for our country!” Wasfy wrote in a tweet.
Wasfy also said that the choice for Walensky to lead the agency “will be tremendously reassuring to academic medicine.”
“In addition to so many other skills, she has profound academic credibility and substance,” he wrote.
Dr. Kenneth H. Mayer, co-chair of The Fenway Institute and professor at Harvard Medical School, called the selection of Walensky to head the CDC a “great choice.”
“She is one of the most brilliant and competent infectious disease clinical researchers in the US, who is a thoughtful leader, who uses evidence to make informed decisions,” Mayer wrote. “Yay!”
Selection of @RWalensky to head @CDCgov is a great choice. She is one of the most brilliant and competent Infectious Disease clinical researchers in the US, who is a thoughtful leader, who uses evidence to make informed decisions. Yay!— Ken Mayer (@khmayer1) December 7, 2020
https://t.co/I4RfE3hmy7 via @politico
Jen Kates, senior vice president and director of global health and HIV policy at the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, said Biden has chosen “one of the most respected infectious disease docs in the world.”
“She has a long history working on HIV and has, in the past year, become a tour de force in addressing COVID,” Kates wrote in a tweet.
Walensky is poised to take the helm of the agency, Kates wrote, at “perhaps its most critical moment.”
In selecting @RWalensky, Biden has chosen one of the most respected infectious disease docs in the world. She has a long history working on HIV and has, in the past year, become a tour de force in addressing COVID. She’ll take the helm of CDC at perhaps its most critical moment. https://t.co/VtMNdLN06p— Jen Kates (@jenkatesdc) December 7, 2020
Dr. Dara Kass, the founder of FemInEM and an associate professor of emergency medicine at Columbia University Center, said she “breathed a sigh of relief” upon learning Walensky had been picked as the new CDC director.
“She will immediately [build] back trust in the CDC and help people understand what they really need to know,” Kass wrote. “Science is back.”
Here are some more reactions to the news of Walensky’s appointment, including several from colleagues at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Bursting happy for the nation that a brilliant scientist, compassionate physician, hard-working manager, loving mother, and decent human will lead the resurrection of CDC as the world’s preeminent public health agency. Congratulations @RWalensky ! https://t.co/gIxHhf5OXj— A. David Paltiel (@ADPaltiel) December 7, 2020
This is the best news I’ve heard all weekend. @RWalensky came to talk at @WUSTLmed a few years ago, and displayed brilliance, wisdom, and strong leadership. Very excited to have her lead us through this crisis. The ID community stands with you Dr. Walensky! #COVID19 #IDtwitter https://t.co/cVfSDWtTRf— Jennie H. Kwon DO, MSCI (@JHKwonDO) December 7, 2020