The principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Anne Schuchat, is retiring from the agency.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky announced the news Monday, saying Schuchat would be leaving the agency over the summer. The news was first reported by Politico.
“I have enormous gratitude for Dr. Schuchat’s leadership and contributions over three decades, and during this very challenging period for our country. I am especially thankful for her invaluable counsel, assistance and support in my transition into this role,” Walensky said in a statement. “I will remain forever grateful that our paths crossed, even for just a short while.”
Schuchat is the second high-profile official to leave the CDC this month; on May 7, the agency announced Nancy Messonnier, who had led CDC’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, was leaving. It was later announced she will be the executive director of the Skoll Foundation, a private philanthropy with a focus on preventing pandemics.
Questions remain about the nature of Messonnier’s departure, with news reports that she’d been stripped of her role as the CDC’s liaison to the Biden administration’s pandemic response task force. But Schuchat’s resignation is being cast as a 33-year-veteran of the agency deciding it was time to leave.
In an interview with STAT, Schuchat, who is 61, said she’d been thinking of retirement for a while, but felt she could not leave the agency during a time of crisis. With increasing numbers of Americans vaccinated against Covid-19 and case rates and deaths in the country falling, she said she felt the right time had arrived.
“We’re certainly in the United States are in a much better position than we’ve been, really, since last spring. And the vaccination effort has really been extraordinary,” she said. “I feel so optimistic about CDC’s future and the nation’s public health system that this is the right time for me to move on.”
An internal medicine physician, Schuchat joined the CDC in 1988 as an Epidemic Intelligence Service officer — the famed disease detective training program the CDC has run for over 70 years. Many EIS officers, as they are known, remain with the CDC after their epidemiology training; Schuchat was one of them.
She was involved in the investigations of the 2001 anthrax attacks, the 2003 SARS outbreak, and the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic. She served as the director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases; Messonnier took over that role when Schuchat the CDC’s principal deputy director in 2015.
Schuchat also served two short stints as acting director of the CDC, at the beginning of the Trump administration before the appointment of Brenda Fitzgerald, and then after Fitzgerald left seven months later in a scandal about her purchase of tobacco stocks while heading the CDC.
Former director Tom Frieden, who appointed Schuchat to the agency’s No. 2 job, praised her for her contribution to the CDC.
“She is widely respected, and rightly so, for her profound dedication, incisive intelligence, and deep knowledge of public health,” he said via email.
Schuchat informed her staff and CDC senior management of her impending departure on Monday, saying she wanted to give people time to plan for the transition ahead.
As for her own plans, she said she is “looking forward to retirement, not another job” and hopes to develop some hobbies for which she hasn’t had the time during her decades at CDC.
“As a person who since childhood was planning to be a doctor … there were interests in my youth that maybe I’ll get back to… Some of the hobbies and stuff that I haven’t had time,” Schuchat said. “I’m going to go find out what those things are.”