President Donald Trump has selected HIV/AIDS expert Robert Redfield to lead the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar confirmed.
Redfield, a professor in translational medicine and virology at the University of Maryland, had been widely speculated to be Trump's choice to lead the agency, which is charged with protecting the nation's public health.
He will be sworn in on March 26, a spokesman for the U.S. health department told S&P Global Market Intelligence.
Redfield will replace Brenda Fitzgerald, who abruptly resigned on Jan. 31 after only six months on the job amid questions over her financial conflicts of interest.
Anne Schuchat, the CDC's principal deputy director, has been leading the agency in an acting capacity since then — the second time she held that position in the past year. She took over the CDC after Tom Frieden, who led the agency during the Obama administration, exited on Jan. 20, 2017, when Trump entered the White House.
Schuchat, an expert in infectious diseases, including influenza, had been viewed by many in the public health community as a strong contender for the top spot. But in the end, Trump sought to put his own mark on the agency.
Azar noted that Schuchat had led the CDC during a particularly tough flu season.
In a March 21 tweet, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb called Schuchat a "tireless" leader at the CDC.
Redfield, whose appointment does not require Senate confirmation, was considered for the CDC director position in 2002 by then-President George W. Bush, who eventually settled on Julie Gerberding, who is now at Merck & Co. Inc.
Redfield currently oversees a clinical program providing HIV care and treatment to more than 6,000 patients in the Baltimore-Washington area, according to information posted on the University of Maryland website. He also heads a care and treatment program under the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief — a program Trump has sought to cut by nearly $1 billion and eventually wind down.
Redfield, who will be the 18th director of the CDC, has "dedicated his entire life to promoting public health and providing compassionate care to his patients, and we are proud to welcome him as director of the world's premier epidemiological agency," Azar said in a statement.
He said Redfield's scientific and clinical background was "peerless," noting his pioneering contributions to advancing scientists' understanding of HIV/AIDS during his two-decade tenure at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.
"His more recent work running a treatment network in Baltimore for HIV and Hepatitis C patients also prepares him to hit the ground running on one of HHS and CDC's top priorities, combating the opioid epidemic," Azar said.
Redfield won quick praise from Republicans on Capitol Hill.
"There are no shortage of public health issues on the horizon, and we look forward to having a new partner in our efforts to deliver for the American people," Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., and Health Subcommittee Chairman Michael Burgess, R-Texas, said in a statement. "In particular, we are at a critical juncture when it comes to combating the opioid crisis. Working with Dr. Redfield, we aim to advance meaningful reforms that can help stem the tide and provide the necessary resources to those struggling with addiction."
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, also said Redfield's "strong background" would benefit the nation's fight against the opioid epidemic and other public health threats, including HIV/AIDS.
But Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the ranking member of that committee, said Redfield's appointment does not come without controversy. She referenced his history of calling for mandatory HIV testing during the height of the epidemic in the U.S., which Murray said goes "against scientific consensus and raise serious concerns about patient privacy and discrimination."
Murray also noted that an Army investigation criticized Redfield for inappropriately handling data while pushing an unsuccessful AIDS vaccine.
On the news that Redfield was the CDC director front-runner, Murray pleaded with Trump in a March 19 letter to reconsider his choice, given the candidate's "lack of public health credentials and his history of controversial positions regarding the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS."