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‘It is slaughter’: Former CDC director who eradicated smallpox urges current head to expose Trump’s missteps with coronavirus

The Independent logo The Independent 07/10/2020 Danielle Zoellner
William Foege, Barack Obama are posing for a picture © Provided by The Independent

A former director of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) who led the eradication of smallpox has asked the current CDC head to reveal the United States failings amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. William Foege, an epidemiologist who served under both Republican and Democrat presidents, sent a private letter to CDC Director Dr Robert Redfield last month about the Trump administration’s failings handling the novel virus, according to USA Today.

In the letter, Dr Foege asked the CDC head to expose the president’s mishandlings of the virus, even if it meant getting fired.

“Dear Bob, I start each day thinking about the terrible burden you bear,” the letter began. “As I have indicated to you before, resigning is a one-day story and you will be replaced.”

If Dr Redfield stayed silent, Dr Foege said, then the White House would simply “blame you for the disaster”.

“You could upfront, acknowledge the tragedy of responding poorly, apologize for what has happened and your role in acquiescing,” Dr Foege wrote. “Don’t shy away from the fact this has been an unacceptable toll on our country. It is a slaughter and not just a political dispute.”

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The letter concluded with Dr Foege detailing the benefits the current CDC director would experience if he spoke out and allowed the Trump administration to fire him.


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“When they fire you,” he concluded, “this will be a multi-week story and you can hold your head high. That will take exceptional courage on your part. I can’t tell you what to do except to revisit your religious beliefs and ask yourself what is right.”

Dr Foege has worked in the field of epidemiology for more than half a century. His work includes credit for devising the “global strategy” for the eradication of smallpox in the 1970s and increasing immunization rates in the 1980s.

Dr Redfield, in comparison, had limited experience running a public health agency before his appointment as director of the CDC by President Donald Trump in 2018. He previously was an HIV/AIDS expert and former military physician.

The CDC has not responded to questions on if Dr Redfield ever responded to the private letter.

A White House spokesperson said in a statement: "This dishonest narrative that the media and Democrats have created that politics is influencing decisions is not only false but is a danger to the American public.”

When speaking to USA Today, Dr Foege said his intentions with the letter were not for it to ever be made public, as it could become a political burden for Dr Redfield,

“Going public can only embarrass him and it doesn't allow him to redeem himself,” Dr Foege said when explaining his motivations to pen a private letter instead of going public. “By doing this privately, he has a chance to do the right thing.”

Dr Foege was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2012 for his work as an epidemiologist and CDC director.

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