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CDC Chief Brenda Fitzgerald Resigns

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the CDC, Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald is her name, she has resigned. This following reports that Dr. Fitzgerald bought shares in a tobacco company a month after taking her job. For more on this story, we've got NPR health editor Joe Neel in the studio with us. Hey, Joe.

JOE NEEL, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: What more can you tell us about the circumstances of Dr. Fitzgerald's resignation?

NEEL: Well, we know that from a report that was published last evening on the Politico website, they had obtained some documents via the Freedom of Information Act, that she bought stocks in Japan Tobacco about a month after she took office back in August. She also, during this period when she was just assuming the office, she bought stocks in a number of other companies that may have presented a conflict of interest - the drugmaker Merck, the health insurance company Humana, drugmaker Bayer and a food company. So there was a lot of questions going on about her in the first three or four months of her tenure as the CDC director about these conflicts of interest. And what appears to have happened was this publication last night of the purchase of tobacco stocks by the director of the agency in charge of preventing tobacco use...

MARTIN: Right.

NEEL: ...May have been - we don't know for sure - may have been what broke the camel's back.

MARTIN: I mean, because so clearly, I mean, you can't have a CDC director buying shares of a tobacco company. I mean, it's not illegal, but it's absolutely inappropriate, I guess.

NEEL: Yes. As one critic said in the Politico report, it certainly undermines the credibility of a public health official. Now, I should point out that Dr. Fitzgerald is a medical doctor. She had been commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health, and she had made tobacco control part of her mission while she was head of that agency in Georgia. Then she was appointed by HHS secretary - then-HHS secretary Tom Price, from Georgia, who ultimately had to resign because of the plane flights that he took, and also was involved in some stock trading that presented conflicts of interest.

MARTIN: So what does it mean for the director of the CDC to resign so abruptly? What are the ripple effects of that?

NEEL: Well, we'll have to wait and see. I mean, we're in the middle of a big flu outbreak. We have a number of other public health issues going on. The opioid crisis. We'll just have to wait and see.

MARTIN: All right. Joe Neel, he's NPR's health editor, reporting this morning on news that Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has resigned from her job following reports that she bought shares in a tobacco company. Joe, thanks so much for taking the time.

NEEL: Sure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joe Neel is NPR's deputy senior supervising editor and a correspondent on the Science Desk.
Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.

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