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Last Updated

14 Dec 2002

Source: Associated Press, February 21, 2002.

CDC Chief Jeffrey Koplan Resigns

By ERIN McCLAM, Associated Press Writer

ATLANTA (AP) - Dr. Jeffrey Koplan resigned Thursday as head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the federal agency that was on the front lines of last fall's deadly anthrax attacks.

Koplan made the announcement in a meeting with senior CDC officials and later informed the staff. The resignation is effective March 31.

"We've reached a point where we've made some significant achievements, and it was a good time to make the shift," Koplan, 57, told The Associated Press. "You can't do the same thing forever."

Koplan said he had not made a decision on what to do next, although he said he would like to remain in Atlanta, where the public health agency is headquartered.

Koplan cited the agency's response to the anthrax letters and the effort to build up the nation's defense against bioterrorism as two of the highlights of his tenure as CDC director.

It was CDC officers who were responsible in the early days of the anthrax crisis for determining how the agent spread, and how infected people should be treated.

But the agency also came under intense criticism during the anthrax-by-mail attacks, which killed five people this fall. Members of Congress said the CDC did not act quickly enough, or communicate clearly to the public about the danger.

In an AP interview last fall, Koplan defended his staff, stressing that the anthrax mailings were an unprecedented bioterrorist attack. He again defended the response on Thursday.

"Here we had an event in which there could have been hundreds of deaths, and there could have been many hundreds of cases, and yet we ended up with five deaths," he said. "Sure we always want to have none, but I think it was a very effective response."

Koplan's boss, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, called him an aggressive, passionate leader who led an effective response during an extremely trying time. Thompson called the resignation a loss for the country.

"Throughout his career, Dr. Koplan has touched and improved the lives of millions of people worldwide. He sets the standard for what it means to truly be a public servant."

The CDC's response to anthrax under Koplan included the largest deployment of CDC investigators in history. He has stressed repeatedly that the threat is not over until the anthrax mailer is caught.

Koplan assumed the agency's top job in 1998, under President Clinton. He had worked 22 years as a government health officer, including a stint as a "disease detective" -- one of the CDC's famed outbreak-tracking investigators.

In 2000, Koplan was forced to apologize to Congress for how scientists spent some money earmarked to fight deadly hantavirus. He insisted the diverted funds were well spent to fight other killer viruses.

Koplan said at the time that CDC employees did not intend to mislead Congress, but said that as the agency's budget grew, its accounting practices grew careless.

Among other highlights of his tenure, Koplan mentioned boosting national immunization levels, working to slow the nation's obesity epidemic and focusing on preventing chronic diseases.

Koplan earned a bachelor's degree in English from Yale University, a master's degree in public health from Harvard University and a medical doctorate from Mt. Sinai School of Medicine.

A native of Boston, Koplan lives in Atlanta with his wife, also a medical doctor, and has two children, a 25-year-old son and a 21-year-old daughter.