On the same day WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky announced she will be stepping down at the end of June.
Today saw several major announcements in the public health sphere.
This morning, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared the COVID-19 pandemic is no longer a global public health emergency.
A few hours later, Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, MPH, announced she would be stepping down as Director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at the end of June.
Walensky played a central role in the US’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, leading the CDC since the beginning of the Biden Administration in January 2021. In that time she oversaw several major public health initiatives, perhaps most notably the widespread rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.
“I took on this role with the goal of leaving behind the dark days of the pandemic and moving the CDC—and public health—into a much better and more trusted place,” Walensky wrote in an email. With news of her departure coming shortly after Ghebreyesus announced the end of the COVID-19 emergency, it seems Walensky’s goal has been actualized.
The WHO declared the COVID-19 pandemic a global public health emergency on January 30, 2020. The designation is reserved for the most severe infectious disease outbreaks; in addition to COVID-19, past emergencies have been issued for mpox, Zika, H1N1 influenza, polio, and Ebola.
“For more than a year, the pandemic has been on a downward trend, with population immunity increasing from vaccination and infection, mortality decreasing and the pressure on health systems easing,” said Tedros. “This trend has allowed most countries to return to life as we knew it before COVID-19.”
However, Tedros emphasized that the end of the state of emergency does not mean countries should downplay the seriousness of COVID-19 or the importance of staying up to date on recommended vaccinations.
Do you agree with WHO's decision to declare COVID-19 is no longer a global public health emergency?
Walensky did not specify why she was leaving the Atlanta-based health agency, nor who would replace her when she steps down on June 30.
“As Director of the CDC, [Walensky] led a complex organization on the frontlines of a once-in-a-generation pandemic with honesty and integrity,” President Joe Biden said in a White House-issued statement. “Dr. Walensky leaves CDC a stronger institution, better positioned to confront health threats and protect Americans. We have all benefited from her service and dedication to public health, and I wish her the best in her next chapter."