An Alabama doctor who championed STD research has been revealed as the new head of America’s top infectious disease health agency.
Dr Jeanne Marrazzo, from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, will start her role as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in the fall.
She has big shoes to fill, with that position held by Dr Anthony Fauci, 82, for nearly four decades before he stepped down in December 2022.
Reacting to the announcement today, Dr Fauci wished her well but warned she takes the mantle at a ‘politically divisive’ time – a nod to the erosion of public trust in the NIAID and other health bodies like the CDC and FDA during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Dr Marrazzo is an accomplished infectious disease doctor and researcher in her work on HIV, sexually transmitted diseases and LGBTQ+ health, but her comments during the Covid-19 pandemic may raise a few eyebrows.
Currently, Dr Jeanne Marrazzo is the director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. It is expected she will assume her position at NIAID in the fall
Dr Marrazzo pushed for mask-wearing in schools during the pandemic despite warnings that face coverings would hamper their education.
She said in July 2020 that masking pupils is ‘the only way to keep kids in school and keep them safe and particularly, to keep schools open’.
Dr Marrazzo said she believed school mask policies were right, even if some students may not properly follow them or find them uncomfortable.
The infectious disease specialist added: ‘Imperfect mask use in settings that we’re really concerned about is better than no mask use at all’.
As recently as November, Dr Marrazzo said she continues to avoid shaking hands whenever possible because of Covid-19.
‘Dr. Marrazzo brings a wealth of leadership experience from leading international clinical trials and translational research, managing a complex organizational budget that includes research funding and mentoring trainees in all stages of professional development’, said Dr Lawrence Tabak, acting director for the NIH.
‘I look forward to welcoming Dr Marrazzo to the NIH leadership team’.
Her previous work has focused on contraceptives, women’s health, HIV and STDs, sexual health, and health issues facing the LGBTQ+ community, both nationally and internationally, as well as health disparities and equity and interdisciplinary collaborative research.
Dr Marrazzo is best known for her 2015 study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, that tested oral and vaginally applied drugs for pre-exposure prevention of HIV in women of reproductive. The study, which took place in Africa from 2009 to 2011, found other methods of treatment were needed.
The NIAID is the second largest center at the NIH and supports research to advance the diagnosis and treatment of infectious, immunologic, and allergic diseases. It played a pivotal role in the Covid-19 pandemic, including the development of vaccines.
Dr Marrazzo is stepping into the role during a tumultuous time for the federal health agency, which has seen the public’s trust in it decline.
Americans have voiced their disapproval of the institution’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting scandals that have come from it, including the controversy that has embroiled Dr Fauci.
The former top health official has been accused of lying under oath over statements he’s made regarding the pandemic and his knowledge of dangerous virus research in China, which is feared to have caused the pandemic.
Dr Fauci said he was pleased by Dr Marrazzo’s appointment but warned of the rocky road ahead.
‘What she’s facing now is going to be a very complicated issue of a number of emerging diseases, a high degree of advanced technology that is really an important part of the research effort on infectious diseases,’ he told CNN.
Dr Fauci added: ‘Also, she’s going to be dealing with, you know, unfortunately, as we’ve seen over the last few years, a very divisive political setting, where there’s been an unfortunate politicization of some of the science.
‘She may get challenged with, you know, attacks on her decisions, but she just needs to realize that she’s got to do the best she can always, always, always letting her North Star being science, evidence and integrity and honesty. When she does that, she’ll be fine.’
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