In some of its first major leadership moves since announcing its intention to modernize, the CDC has hired a new deputy director and appointed a chief medical officer, according to an internal email shared with MedPage Today.
Nirav Shah, MD, JD, the current director of the Maine CDC, will become the CDC principal deputy director in March, he announced on the state agency’s YouTube channel late last week.
Debra Houry, MD, MPH, will become CDC chief medical officer and deputy director for program and science, she said in an email to colleagues that was shared with MedPage Today. Houry has been serving as CDC acting principal deputy director since July 2021, and will continue in that role until Shah arrives in March, she said in her email.
“This is part of the efforts underway to speed the delivery of scientific information and improve communications to the public,” Houry wrote in the email to her colleagues at the CDC National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC), which is referred to as the “Injury Center.”
Houry had been at the helm of the Injury Center since October 2014.
Shah earned a reputation in the public health community for his work leading Maine through the COVID-19 pandemic, becoming a trusted and respected voice in that state.
“Day after day, week after week, Dr. Shah spoke calmly and directly to the people of Maine, many of whom were scared and uncertain,” Maine Gov. Janet Mills (D) said in a statement. “He delivered to us the unvarnished truth, as best we knew it, and answered our questions with compassion, empathy, humor, and a clarity that gave us much-needed hope in our darkest of days.”
Mills appointed Shah to the position in May 2019. Before that, he was director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, a position to which he’d been appointed in 2015, when he was just age 37.
Shah has maintained an active presence on Twitter throughout the pandemic. In his profile, he states he “may call out Tweets that are not factual.” He also frequently appears in videos on the Maine CDC YouTube channel.
During Houry’s tenure at the Injury Center, its budget increased from about $150 million in 2014 to nearly $715 million in 2022, according to her email. Additionally, its staff grew from 317 to 813 during that time. The center also created an overdose prevention program, “which started with no appropriation” and now has over $490 million, she wrote in her email.
Christopher Jones, PharmD, DrPH, MPH, who has been the acting director of the Injury Center since July 2021, will become its permanent director, according to the email.
Houry’s email also showed the personal side of her leadership, offering insights into an agency that reportedly had been besieged by low morale.
“We worked hard together, and we had fun together,” Houry wrote. “I will always treasure you and your camaraderie. A few standout memories for me are nearly 100 of us watching the eclipse (safely, with glasses!), seeing who could wear the tackiest sweater or make the best dish for holiday celebrations, [and] senior leadership retreats with laughs and jokes to balance honest, hard conversations.”