Dr. Julie Gerberding, the first woman to head the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was just named president of Merck's vaccine division.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Dr. Julie Gerberding, then head of the CDC, testifying before Congress in 2007.
Dr. Julie Gerberding, then head of the CDC, testifying before Congress in 2007. Alex Wong/Getty Images
Gerberding, an infectious disease specialist, made her name as a physician in the early days of HIV/AIDS. She came to the CDC in 1998, and was credited with smoothly handling the media after the mysterious anthrax attacks that followed the World Trade Center attack.
Merck is one of the largest vaccine makers in the world; Gerberding will be overseeing a $5-billion-a-year business starting in late January. She replaces Margie McGlynn, whose resignation took effect last month.
Gerberding, a long-time advocate for vaccines, has some potholes ahead of her. Merck has caught flack for aggressively pushing its new and expensive Gardasil vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV), which can lead to cervical cancer. Sales of the vaccine have slipped recently—falling 22 percent to $311 million during the third quarter.
Earlier this year she was attacked for encouraging people to get vaccinated against the new H1N1 virus at the same time she was a consultant for Edelman, a public relations firm with lots of Big Pharma clients, including Merck. And Merck itself has come under criticism from within the public health community for pushing its expensive new HPV vaccine for children, to prevent rare cases of cervical cancer.
As head of the agency from 2002 to 2009, Gerberding oversaw a not-so-popular reorganization of CDC management, and led the agency through some high-profile crises, including SARS and several food-borne outbreaks.