Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Tom Price announced Thursday morning Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, an OB-GYN and current commissioner of Georgia’s Department of Public Health (DPH), will be the new head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Fitzgerald has been in contention for weeks, as her state, home to the CDC in Atlanta, has tackled difficult health issues such as an ongoing opioid crisis.
Despite weeks of challenging negotiations that included moving her existing staff alongside her, the appointment was confirmed Thursday morning. Fitzgerald will replace Dr. Anne Schuchat, the acting director, who assumed the role after Dr. Tom Frieden resigned earlier this year in tandem with President Trump’s inauguration.
Fitzgerald is expected to have a lot of support from the medical community, particularly in Georgia, as her background includes an undergraduate degree in microbiology, Emory University for medical school, and being a major in the U.S. Air Force. However, critics have cited her lack of scientific research experience (a primary function of the CDC) as a reason to doubt her abilities. Despite that, her new role does not require Senate confirmation, and she should be able to hit the ground running in her home territory with some ease.
This will be vitally important, as she is inheriting a series of difficult problems like a potential Zika reappearance, growing antibacterial resistance around the world, and future budget cuts—which Trump proposed earlier this year—that would make operating the CDC exceptionally difficult. She already faces low CDC funds and knowledge that previous versions of Republican health legislation have proposed taking as much as $1 billion away from the CDC.
Luckily for Fitzgerald, she is no stranger to politics. Although unsuccessful, Fitzgerald ran twice for Congress as a Republican, both times in the 1990s. She was also a health care policy advisor to House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) and Sen. Paul Coverdell (R-GA). While this could cause controversy for those on the other side of the aisle, her ability to successfully run the Georgia DPH’s $671 million agency should give them some faith, as should her past assertions that she will not perform abortions, but believes the ultimate choice to have one is up to a woman, a stance not in line with many of her Republican colleagues.
This gives hope to some in the health field that Fitzgerald will ensure the CDC continues to place science above politics. Unfortunately for Fitzgerald, it doesn’t seem like many in the United States prioritize health and security above politics. She certainly has a big job in front of her, and the state of Georgia will have the eyes of the world watching the transition.