After backing candidate Donald Trump last year, antivaccine activists may feel betrayed in his administration’s latest move to name vaccine advocate Brenda Fitzgerald to run the CDC. At the same time, the medical community will likely breathe a sigh of relief on the nomination.
Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price named Fitzgerald to the critical post Friday.
After serving as the Georgia Department of Public Health commissioner and as a state health officer for six years, Fitzgerald will replace acting CDC Director Dr. Anne Schuchat. Before Schuchat, Tom Frieden served as CDC director for 8 years under the Obama Administration.
In a series of tweets Friday, Frieden supported the appointment.
Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald next CDC Director. Her health commissioner experience important. Listening to & supporting CDC staff, she can succeed.— Dr. Tom Frieden (@DrFrieden) July 7, 2017
As head of the CDC, Fitzgerald will be responsible for U.S. vaccination policy and much more. The position doesn’t require Senate confirmation.
After fears that President Trump may push for a change in vaccine policy on autism concerns, her appointment will likely be a relief to medical professionals. In numerous public statements, Fitzgerald has supported vaccination.
In April, Fitzgerald said in a statement that “immunizations are the best way to protect infants and children from childhood diseases, like whooping cough and measles that can be life-threatening at young ages.”
She continued that it’s “critical for parents to talk to their child’s doctor to ensure they are up-to-date on immunizations, because no child should have to suffer a vaccine-preventable illness.”
Ahead of the nomination, antivaccine group Autism Investigated posted an open letter to President Trump urging him to “withdraw any consideration” for Fitzgerald due to her vaccine stance. In the letter, the website’s editor Jake Crosby brought up Trump’s campaign promises to look into vaccine safety and pointed out that “many people voted for you this past election” because of those promises.
Even before Fitzgerald’s nomination, antivaccine activists were disappointed with Trump’s appointment for FDA head, Scott Gottlieb, who has said any theories of a link between vaccines and autism have been “thoroughly debunked.”
For her part, Fitzgerald wrote an op-ed titled “Babies need their vaccines” in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution back in 2014. In the piece, she makes clear her thoughts on immunizations.
“I’ve heard all the arguments against vaccination,” she wrote in opinion piece. “All have been debunked, including the infamous 1980s study in Europe about a similar vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella, and a supposed link—that we now know to be false—to autism, which shattered vaccine use in Europe.”
Fitzgerald’s nomination seems to be a reversal from candidate Trump’s campaign statements of a link between vaccines and autism, and from a pledge he reportedly made to vaccine skeptic Robert Kennedy, Jr., to start a governmental panel looking into the issue. The White House disputed the claim, but Kennedy, Jr., later said he still had the president’s support.