LOS ANGELES: Places AIDS Vaccine Study Administrator on Leave
Los Angeles County's "top epidemiologist was put on 30-day administrative leave" for allegedly neglecting to obtain approval to commit county health department "resources to a program designed to recruit volunteers for a federal HIV vaccine study," the AP/Sacramento Bee reports. In a confidential report to the County Board of Supervisors, Health Services Department investigators charged Friday that Dr. Peter Kerndt, the study's research administrator, "misrepresented and misled community representatives, elected officials, department management and the federal government." However, internal health department correspondence obtained by the Los Angeles Times indicates that "Dr. Kerndt did notify his superiors in the Public Health Division that he was applying for the federally funded project." County Health Services Director Mark Finucane "dismissed as 'ludicrous' any notion that Kerndt had notified his superiors of the project." But AP/Sacramento Bee reports that the "confidential report appeared to contradict Finucane." It said that "Public Health Division management staff 'were aware of and reviewed' the vaccine proposal' and 'did not exercise the proper oversight, nor did they elevate the proposal and its commitment of county resources to upper management.'" Kerndt could not be reached for comment, but has denied any wrongdoing.
The vaccine study attracted considerable attention last week when County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke denounced it for recruiting poor African Americans without warning them of potential risks involved. Investigators concurred, "[o]f particular concern is that the information provided to the community appears to have lacked complete disclosure of the fact that the vaccine could include components of the HIV virus." County health officials placed both the vaccine study and another AIDS research project on hold on Friday. The county plans to pursue "a public information campaign designed to convince South Los Angeles residents that the HIV testing program would not put anyone at risk of contracting the AIDS virus." Tomorrow, the Los Angeles "Board of Supervisors is expected to consider a series of motions, authored by Burke, that would require county medical researchers to notify the county's Department of Health Services when they plan to use county facilities and resources in the course of completing an outside research project" (2/1).