Who Is Robert Redfield, the Researcher Leading the CDC Under Trump
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A look at Robert Redfield's history and experience, the former Army physician and researcher leading the CDC under Trump

Robert Redfield
Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), wears a protective mask during a House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis hearing on July 31, 2020 in Washington, DC.
Erin Scott-Pool/Getty Images
  • Dr. Robert Redfield has been the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention since March 2018.
  • Earlier this week, Redfield asked governors to prepare state distribution facilities for coronavirus vaccines by November 1— two days before the presidential election.
  • His appointment was met with mixed reviews: Dr. Anthony Fauci once described Redfield as "a talented and committed physician/scientist." Redfield has also faced controversy over the misrepresentation of data for a clinical trial for an AIDS vaccine during his role as one of the leading AIDS researchers at the US Army.
  • In August, he walked back from CDC's modification of testing guidelines to no longer encourage asymptomatic people to get tested to clarify everybody who wants a test can get one after drawing much criticism from public health and medical experts.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Earlier this week, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Robert Redfield asked governors to prepare state distribution facilities for coronavirus vaccines by November 1.

This news came as President Donald Trump is seeking to accelerate vaccine distribution through a program known as Operation Warp Speed, which some vaccine experts have scrutinized over concerns of rushing clinical trials for safety. Lawmakers and watchdog groups have also pointed to the lack of transparency of selection of candidate vaccines, worrying that public trust in the vaccines could be hurt as a result.

It was the latest in a series of moves that spark controversy, as many Trump administration actions do.

Redfield, 69, has led the CDC throughout the coronavirus pandemic. He received his medical degree from Georgetown University before conducting his residency at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center as a US Army officer.

Both his parents were scientists at the National Institutes of Health. His wife, Joyce Hoke, is a nurse and two of their six children are doctors, according to The New York Times.

The Trump administration tapped him as the new director in March 2018, after Brenda Fitzgerald resigned over a report that said she purchased stock in Japan Tobacco during her time as CDC director.

Before starting his position as the director of the CDC, Redfield was a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and was once one of the US Army's leading AIDS researchers.

Dr. Anthony Fauci once described Redfield as "a talented and committed physician/scientist who has steadfastly devoted the past three decades to the study and care of HIV-infected individuals," The Atlantic reported.

Former colleagues have alleged research issues, and the US Army investigated his work in 1993

Robert Redfield
Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Dr. Robert Redfield testifies about coronavirus preparedness and response to the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee on Capitol Hill on March 12, 2020.
REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

But picking Redfield resurfaced questionable records from Redfield's extensive work in HIV research.

In 1993, the US Army investigated whether Redfield misrepresented data in a clinical trial for an AIDS vaccine at Walter Reed, Time magazine reported. Ultimately, the Army acknowledged accuracy issues in the clinical trials spearheaded by Redfield but did not rule the errors as scientific misconduct, NPR reported.

Redfield left Walter Reed in 1994 to treat patients at an Army hospital in Washington, DC, in the wake of the controversy, The Hartford Courant reported.

But skepticism remained years after the decision. Former Air Force Lt. Col. Craig Hendrix told Kaiser Health News in March 2018 that "Either he was egregiously sloppy with data or it was fabricated."

CNN reported that interviews with former colleagues and a review of internal documents "suggest Redfield knew he was misrepresenting the data behind the vaccine, even as he publicly touted its results — an effort that ultimately helped garner millions in federal funds for further testing."

Democratic Sen. Patty Murray wrote a letter to the president that she was concerned with Redfield leading the CDC, "given his lack of public health credentials and his history of controversial positions regarding the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS."

Additionally, Redfield had no experience leading a public health agency in the past, Vox pointed out.

But the CDC director doesn't require Senate confirmation, so Redfield assumed the role on March 26, 2018.

Leading the CDC through the coronavirus pandemic

Trump, Redfield
Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Director Robert Redfield passes U.S. President Donald Trump as he approaches the podium to address the daily coronavirus task force briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 22, 2020.
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

During the coronavirus pandemic, Redfield has overseen one of the most important government agencies for compiling and disseminating accurate public health information about a brand-new disease. He's testified before Congress, given interviews, and generally been more visible than a CDC director usually is.

In August, he was met swift backlash when the CDC modified testing guidelines to no longer encourage asymptomatic people to get tested, which The New York Times reported came from pressures from top Trump administration officials to narrow testing recommendations.

Fauci told CNN that he was not part of the discussion on changes to testing guidelines because he was undergoing surgery. Former CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden said the top-down mandates  "are frankly not scientifically supportable" and that it's "problematic because it undermines our trust in government."

After much criticism from scientists and public health experts, Redfield walked back the changes to the testing guidelines and clarified that everybody who wants a test can get one, although he added that "everyone who wants a test does not necessarily need a test."

Earlier on in the pandemic, Redfield clashed a few times with Trump. In March, when House lawmakers asked him whether a physical wall along the US border with Mexico would prevent the spread of the virus, he answered, "Not that I've seen," contradicting Trump's claim that "we need the border more than ever."

In April, shortly after Trump announced he would cut funding to the World Health Organization, Redfield said in an interview that the CDC and WHO have a "long history of working together" and added, "I'd like to do the postmortem on this outbreak once we get through it together."

In July, the CDC ultimately backtracked from its original restrictive guidelines on reopening schools, which Trump slammed on Twitter as "very tough and expensive,"  to fully support the reopening of schools. "Reopening schools creates opportunity to invest in the education, well-being, and future of one of America's greatest assets — our children," the CDC said.

In an opinion piece for the Washington Post in mid-July, four former directors of the CDC wrote that Trump has politicized the agency's science in a dangerous way.

"One of the many contributions the CDC provides our country is sound public health guidance that states and communities can adapt to their local context — expertise even more essential during a pandemic, when uncertainty is the norm," the former directors wrote. "The four of us led the CDC over a period of more than 15 years, spanning Republican and Democratic administrations alike. We cannot recall over our collective tenure a single time when political pressure led to a change in the interpretation of scientific evidence."

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