The New Head Of The CDC Is A Celebrated AIDS Researcher With A Controversial Past

A whistleblower says Robert Redfield misrepresented the effectiveness of an experimental HIV vaccine.

Robert Redfield, a professor at the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine, has been named the new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the federal government’s chief public health agency.

A leading AIDS researcher, Redfield has “dedicated his entire life to promoting public health and providing compassionate care to his patients,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Aid for AIDS

Redfield also oversees a community care program that threats 6,000 patients in the Baltimore-Washington area, and has served on Bush’s Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS and on advisory councils at the National Institutes of Health. Though he has limited experience with emergency responses and government bureaucracy, Azar called his scientific and clinical experience “peerless.”

But Redfield doesn’t come without controversy, though: In the 1980s, as the Army’s chief AIDS researcher, he supported mandatory HIV testing for all military personnel and any health care professionals who performed invasive procedures.

In addition, while at Walter Reed, Redfield misrepresented the effectiveness of an experimental AIDS vaccine he was under pressure to deliver. Though he was ultimately cleared of misconduct charges, critics maintain Redfield had inappropriate ties to Americans for a Sound AIDS/HIV Policy, a conservative abstinence-based organization that strongly endorsed the vaccine. They also claim the Army scuttled serious investigation into the allegation.

“Either he was egregiously sloppy with data or it was fabricated,” said former Air Force Lt. Col. Craig Hendrix, who blew the whistle on Redfield at Walter Reed, told Kaiser Health News. “It was somewhere on that spectrum, both of which were serious and raised questions about his trustworthiness.”

In a letter urging President Trump to reconsider the appointment, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA.) said Redfield displayed a pattern of “ethically and morally questionable behavior.” (The position does not require Senate confirmation.)

Redfield replaces previous CDC director Brenda Fitzgerald, who stepped down in January after just six months following a controversy over her purchase of tobacco stocks.

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.