Georgia's Brenda Fitzgerald named new CDC director

Brenda Fitzgerald, MD, the public health commissioner of Georgia, an obstetrician-gynecologist and a former candidate for Congress, has been named as the next director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported in June Fitzgerald was likely to be appointed to the position. This was confirmed in a July 7 press release from another Georgian, HHS Secretary Tom Price, MD.

“Having known Dr. Fitzgerald for many years, I know that she has a deep appreciation and understanding of medicine, public health, policy and leadership—all qualities that will prove vital as she leads the CDC in its work to protect America’s health 24/7,” Price said in a statement. “We look forward to working with Dr. Fitzgerald to achieve President Trump's goal of strengthening public health surveillance and ensuring global health security at home and abroad. Congratulations to Dr. Fitzgerald and her family.”

Fitzgerald has been commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health and state health officer since 2011. In the political realm, he served as health policy advisor to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and unsuccessfully ran for a seat in Congress in 1992 and 1994. She’s also a major in the U.S. Air Force.

In medicine, she holds a bachelor’s of science degree in microbiology from Georgia State University and attained her MD from Emory University School of Medicine. She completed post-graduate training at the Emory-Grady Hospitals in Atlanta and held an assistant clinical professorship at Emory Medical Center. A practicing OB-GYN for three decades, she also served as a board member and president of the Georgia OB-GYN Society.

What she lacks, according to STAT News, is a background in scientific research, a key function of the CDC. She also has garnered controversy in the past when Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal attributed his incorrect statement about water killing the Ebola virus to her.

Her appointment should calm fears that the administration of President Donald Trump will be friendly to debunked claims about vaccinations causing autism, stoked by the promise of forming a “vaccine safety commission” and comments from Price. Fitzgerald has strongly and publicly bashed those claims, including blaming the since-debunked study tying vaccines to autism for the rise in vaccine-preventable diseases in Europe and the U.S.

She takes over the role from interim director Anne Schuchat, MD, who has been in the role since Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, stepped down at the end of the Obama administration. Frieden, himself a former public health commissioner before assuming the job, tweeted that Fitzgerald’s experience in that area will be helpful while adding the CDC role will be “surprisingly different.”

Her initial priority may be the agency’s budget, which Trump proposed to cut by $1.2 billion.