Dr. Rochelle Walensky Appointed CDC Director: “Leading With Science Is the Only Way To Deliver Breakthroughs”

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In a series of nominations for health leaders in his administration, President-Elect Joe Biden tapped Dr. Rochelle Walensky to head up the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as director. Walensky gave the following speech in accepting her appointment:

“I never anticipated I would take on a role helping lead our national response, and government service was never part of my plan. But every doctor knows that when a patient is coding, your plans don’t matter. You answer the code. And when the nation is coding, if you are called to serve, you serve,” Walensky said. 

“You run to take care of people, to stop the bleeding, to stabilize, to give them hope and a fighting chance to come back stronger. That’s what doctors do. I’m honored to work with an administration that understands that leading with science is the only way to deliver breakthroughs, to deliver hope, and to bring our nation back to full strength.”

Walensky spoke of her background confronting the AIDS pandemic, beginning as a medical student at Johns Hopkins University. She went on to be a leader in HIV/AIDS research and screening, from the U.S. to South Africa and even at the United Nations.

“As a medical student, I saw firsthand how the virus ravaged bodies and communities. Inside the hospital, I witnessed people lose strength and hope. While outside the hospital, I witnessed those same patients, mostly gay men and members of vulnerable communities, be stigmatized and marginalized by their nation and many of its leaders,” Walensky said. “Now, a new virus is ravaging us. It’s striking hardest, once again, at the most vulnerable, the marginalized, the underserved.” 

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She is currently chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital, in addition to teaching at Harvard Medical School. 

Her experience with the HIV/AIDS response expanded her knowledge of widespread testing, which she intends to apply to the COVID-19 pandemic. Biden also spoke of her research on vaccine delivery, especially in marginalized communities.

“She’s uniquely qualified to restore morale and public trust,” Biden said.

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About

Sophie Dorf-Kamienny is a Ms. Fellow and former Editorial Intern. She recently graduated high school and is completing a gap year before attending Tufts University.