Saturday May 25th, 2024 4:10PM

Bush administration considering two candidates to head CDC

WASHINGTON, D.C. - A scientist on the front lines of the anthrax investigation and a longtime seeker of an AIDS vaccine are the leading candidates to become the next director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, administration officials say. <br> <br> Public health experts are urging the Bush administration to appoint infectious disease specialist Dr. Julie Gerberding. <br> <br> Credited with taking some of the earliest steps to protect health care workers exposed to the AIDS virus, Gerberding went on to become one of CDC&#39;s most quoted, unflappable investigators into last fall&#39;s anthrax attacks. <br> <br> If appointed, Gerberding would become the CDC&#39;s first female director. <br> <br> The administration also is considering Dr. Robert Redfield, a former Army physician and longtime AIDS vaccine researcher, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity. <br> <br> Redfield was on the team that HIV virus co-discoverer Robert Gallo chose to start his Institute for Human Virology at the University of Maryland in the late 1990s, to study HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and other viruses. Redfield also stirred controversy in the early 1990s over an experimental AIDS vaccine that ultimately failed. <br> <br> Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson recently sent the two candidates&#39; names to the White House for consideration. HHS officials said Friday they hope to announce a new director very soon. <br> <br> Redfield did not return a phone call. HHS officials said Gerberding would not comment. <br> <br> The White House also refused to comment. <br> <br> The CDC, which investigates outbreaks of infectious diseases and works to prevent other illnesses, is the nation&#39;s lead public health agency. Members of Congress strongly criticized the agency, however, for acting too slowly when anthrax struck and not communicating the danger clearly enough. <br> <br> CDC director Jeffrey Koplan stepped down March 31, saying it was time to move on after more than three years in the job. He had defended CDC&#39;s handling of the unprecedented bioterrorist attack. <br> <br> Public health organizations want Gerberding to be his replacement partly because of her anthrax experience, said Dr. Gail Cassell, a government adviser on bioterrorism who personally urged White House officials to back Gerberding. <br> <br> ``We need somebody that can think rapidly and act quickly and someone who&#39;s really going to be able to communicate with the public,&#39;&#39; said Cassell, vice president of Eli Lilly and Co.&#39;s infectious disease research and a one-time CDC candidate until she bowed out. <br> <br> Added Barbara Hyde of the American Society for Microbiology, which also backs Gerberding: ``We really need some strong leadership at that agency.&#39;&#39; <br> <br> Currently CDC&#39;s acting deputy director for science, Gerberding was recruited in the late 1990s to run the CDC&#39;s fight against hospital-caused infections. While at the University of California, San Francisco, she pioneered one of the first programs to give health workers stuck with HIV-tainted needles medication to prevent infection, said Dr. Tom Coates, UCSF&#39;s AIDS research director. <br> <br> Redfield&#39;s candidacy came as a surprise to public health and AIDS groups, largely because he is known for his search for AIDS treatments, not for prevention. <br> <br> ``Redfield is more a clinical scientist. ... He&#39;s a serious AIDS researcher,&#39;&#39; said Terje Anderson of the National Association of People With AIDS. <br> <br> Redfield was at the center of controversy in 1992 over an experimental AIDS vaccine called gp160 that made headlines as politicians and scientists battled over its potential. Redfield championed the vaccine, but other researchers disputed his findings. A military inquiry cleared Redfield of any misconduct, but Congress eventually scuttled plans for a large clinical trial and smaller studies concluded the vaccine didn&#39;t work.
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