BOSTON – Dr. Rochelle Walensky, who serves as the chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital and professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, has been tapped by President-elect Joe Biden to become the next director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“I began my medical career at the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis, and I’ve spent my life ever since working to research, treat, and combat infectious diseases. I’m honored to be called to lead the brilliant team at the CDC. We are ready to combat this virus with science and facts,” Walensky said in a statement on Twitter.
Walensky, who is considered one of America’s most respected experts on AIDS and HIV, and the value of testing and treatment of deadly viruses, will replace Dr. Robert Redfield after Biden becomes president next month. The CDC director does not need to be confirmed by the Senate.
Walensky is an influential scholar whose pioneering research has helped advance the national and global response to HIV/AIDS. “She has been on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic response in Massachusetts,” the Biden-Harris transition team said in a press release earlier this week.
“The entire MGH community is thrilled with Dr. Walensky’s appointment to lead the CDC. Her remarkable skills as a clinician, scientist, leader, and communicator are ideally suited for her new role. I can’t think of a better person to convince the American people about the importance of getting vaccinated against COVID-19,” said Dr. Peter L. Slavin, Mass General president.
Walensky was born in Peabody, and grew up in Maryland. She received her bachelor of arts degree from Washington University in St. Louis, her MD from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and her masters in public health degree from the Harvard School of Public Health.
Walensky, who has been working on the front lines of the coronavirus response in Boston, has found a measure of comfort in her synagogue, Temple Emanuel of Newton. “I said to them, the last time I spoke with them, ‘I’m thinking I need you more than you need me,’” Walensky told the Journal last April, shortly after the health crisis began. “I have a sense it’s getting emotionally pretty hard. I certainly have everybody’s cell phone number … I may need to use it in the weeks ahead.”
Since then, she’s also taken part in Zoom webinars at her synagogue with other medical professionals, to share frontline reports and lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic with congregants.
She is married to Dr. Loren Walensky, and they live in Newton with their three sons.
Scientists and members of the medical community were quick to praise Biden’s choice of Walensky to lead the CDC. Dr. Peter Jay Hotez, dean for the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and co-director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development offered his “heartfelt congratulations” and added he was “looking forward to helping in any way.”
Julia Marcus, an infectious disease epidemiologist and associate professor at Harvard Medical School, also praised Walensky’s appointment. “This news has sent me into a sort of public health euphoria. It gives me such hope to know that someone as brilliant, kind, and fearless as @RWalensky will lead the restoration of our preeminent public health agency,” Marcus wrote on Twitter.
“There literally could not be a more inspired choice for CDC director than Rochelle Walensky. Such wonderful news for our country,” Dr. Jason H. Wasfy, medical director of the Mass General Physicans Organization and an assistant professor at Harvard, wrote on Twitter.
Dr. Vin Gupta, formerly of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and now a faculty member at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, wrote on Twitter, “Thrilled by your selection. This is the type of health appointment that gives us all confidence that frontline clinicians with clear covid expertise through lived experience will be steering us ahead.”