Outgoing Director Urges CDC Not to ‘Falter’ on ‘Broader Public Health Mission’ Amid Bioterrorism Concerns
Dr. Jeffrey Koplan, the departing director of the CDC, said yesterday in a press conference that while the agency "must be vigilant on bioterrorism, it must not falter in its broader public health mission," the Wall Street Journal reports. Koplan, whose announcement last month that he was stepping down raised questions about whether he was forced out by the Bush administration due to the CDC's handling of last fall's anthrax incidents, will become the vice president for academic health affairs at Emory University's health sciences center next month. Koplan said that bioterrorism has been a "top priority" since he became head of the CDC in 1998 (Carrns, Wall Street Journal, 3/26). But he added that although attention to bioterrorism is important, other health issues, such as HIV/AIDS, tobacco use and obesity, also "need to be addressed" (Altman, New York Times, 3/26). "If we become the Centers for Bioterrorism, rather than disease control, we would not be serving the public," he said (Wall Street Journal, 3/26). Koplan, whose last day at the CDC is Friday, said he did not know who his successor would be, but hoped that "it's a person with broad and in-depth public health experience, who has a range of intellectual interests in public health and appreciates that public health has become a global undertaking" (Manning, USA Today, 3/26).
Koplan again defended the CDC's handling of the anthrax incidents and said there was no pressure on him to resign. "I resigned totally of my own volition. Whatever people's perceptions are, I can only say that this was my choice" (New York Times, 3/26). "I'm a pretty obstinate individual," he said, adding, "If I felt I was being forced out, my immediate reaction would be I'm not going anywhere" (USA Today, 3/26). The agency came under criticism from some members of Congress for "moving too slowly and communicating too poorly" during the anthrax incidents, which led to the deaths of five people (Wall Street Journal, 3/26). Responding to criticism that the CDC is "unaccustomed" to dealing with Washington politics, Koplan said, "What's most important in an investigation of an outbreak like this is not the rough and tumble of Washington politics but the rough and tumble of dealing with a dangerous infectious agent when loose in the field, and that is where we apply our attention. That is the wrestling match I prefer for us to get into, not Washington politics." (New York Times, 3/26). Still, Koplan said that the CDC had learned from the anthrax incidents and is now better prepared for a bioterrorist attack, with a rapid-repsonse unit on the ready and a new system for tracking specimens from lab to lab (Wall Street Journal, 3/26). He also said that during his tenure as director, the agency has bolstered the national public health structure, improved its laboratories, stepped up its support of state and local health departments and strengthened programs for diabetes, heart disease and cancer (New York Times, 3/26).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.