Bioterrorism expert Osterholm named to CDC transition team

Shira Kantor

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson named a University epidemiologist and bioterrorism expert to the four-doctor management transition team at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last weekend after the agency’s director ended a more than two-decade tenure.

Dr. Michael Osterholm, public health professor and director of the University’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, is set to take the place of the agency’s former director, Jeffrey Koplan, along with three current CDC doctors.

Osterholm, who will serve as Thompson’s representative until a new director is named, is the only team member to come from outside the CDC.

Osterholm said Monday he couldn’t yet comment on his role at the agency.

In a written statement released by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, Thompson lauded the management team members for their experience and expertise.

“This team of skilled professionals will serve the CDC, the department and the nation well until a permanent director is selected,” Thompson said.

Since shortly after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in September – when anthrax scares dominated media coverage and commanded national attention – Thompson has sought Osterholm’s advice on bioterrorism policy.

In October, Osterholm addressed a U.S. Senate committee, recommending the nation allot more than $1.6 billion to bioterrorism-combating initiatives.

As the nation’s first point of contact, the CDC began to reassess its bioterrorism initiatives when anthrax spores first started to appear across the United States.

Currently, the CDC’s bioterror response effort is splintered, with knowledge and information divided among the 8,000 people employed at the agency.

Approximately 50 people in the infectious diseases center make up the emergency bioterror response team, but specialists on treatments and diseases that could be weaponized are widely dispersed.

Osterholm is expected to play a critical role in realigning the agency’s ailing bioterrorism efforts, likely requiring him to spend several days per week in the Atlanta agency.

– The Atlanta
contributed to this article.

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