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Last Updated

26 Jun 2003

Source: Wall Street Journal, March 26, 2002

Centers for Disease Control Chief Takes Post at Emory University


ATLANTA -- The departing director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that while the institution must be vigilant on bioterrorism, it must not falter in its broader public health mission.

Jeffrey Koplan, who announced his resignation last month after leading the CDC for four years, said Monday that he will take a top administrative post at Emory University here. The federal Department of Health and Human Services, the CDC's parent agency, hasn't named his successor.

Dr. Koplan, 57 years old, stressed that while bioterrorism preparedness is more important than ever, it must not overshadow the CDC's commitment to other initiatives, such as those in the areas of AIDS, diabetes, immunizations, smoking reduction and birth defects. "If we become the Centers for Bioterrorism, rather than disease control, we would not be serving the public," he said.

Dr. Koplan maintained that the CDC's "priorities have not changed" in light of Sept. 11 and last fall's anthrax attack. Bioterrorism, he said, has been a major concern since he became head of the agency in 1998. "Since Day 1 of my coming here, it has been a top priority," he said.

While some members of Congress criticized the CDC during last year's anthrax attack for moving too slowly and communicating poorly, Dr. Koplan has steadfastly defended his agency's response. But he did say the institution learned from the attacks and made changes as a result. The CDC, for example, is now able to quickly pull together experts from its various centers to create a rapid-response unit in the event of a bioterror attack. The agency also has developed a new system for tracking specimens from lab to lab, and it is creating software for its investigators to help speed the collection and analysis of information during a bioterror attack.

Dr. Koplan said that during his tenure, the CDC received funding to upgrade its laboratories, which served the agency well during the anthrax attacks. Some outside labs still are testing samples from the attacks, but that work is part of extended studies, he said, and "wouldn't impede us" should another attack require fast testing of large numbers of new samples.

A career public-health scientist, Dr. Koplan was part of the CDC team that eradicated smallpox during the 1970s. Including his stint as director, he has spent 26 years with the agency.

Dr. Koplan will become the vice president for academic health affairs at Emory University's health-sciences center, effective April 22. In his new job, he will help direct and coordinate the strategies of the center's various institutions, including its medical school, its school of public health and its network of hospitals and clinics.

Bill Pierce, a spokesman for HHS, said he agrees with Mr. Koplan's characterization of bioterrorism as one of several CDC priorities. But since last fall, he said, bioterrorism carries a "heightened sensitivity" and additional resources: the CDC budget for bioterrorism in 2002, the current fiscal year, is more than $1 billion, he said. "Its priority has increased," he said.