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Rochelle Walensky, CDC director, leaving agency, Biden says

"I wish her the best in her next chapter," Biden said.

May 5, 2023, 1:38 PM

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is leaving the agency, President Joe Biden announced.

Walensky, who will leave at the end of June, said in a statement, "The end of the COVID-19 public health emergency marks a tremendous transition for our country, for public health, and in my tenure as CDC Director."

She said her goal was "leaving behind the dark days of the pandemic and moving CDC -- and public health -- forward into a much better and more trusted place."

"In the process, we saved and improved lives and protected the country and the world from the greatest infectious disease threat we have seen in over 100 years," Walensky said.

"She led a complex organization on the frontlines of a once-in-a-generation pandemic with honesty and integrity," Biden said in a 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," Biden added.

PHOTO: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky speaks with an aide as she testifies before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Capital Hill in Washington, D.C., on May 4, 2023.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky speaks with an aide as she testifies before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Capital Hill in Washington, D.C., on May 4, 2023.
Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images, FILE

Biden selected Walensky to lead the CDC in December 2020, replacing Dr. Robert Redfield, who was the director throughout the majority of former President Donald Trump’s administration.

Prior to becoming director, Walensky was the chief of the division of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, according to the hospital’s website.

She began her career during the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and spent time in South Africa improving HIV screening and care and also spent tie as chair of the Office of AIDS Research Advisory Council, her biography on the CDC website states.

Walensky took the helm as director in January 2021 during a time when public health experts said the agency was suffering from a lack of public trust, due to missteps made during the early days of the pandemic and political interference.

While she led the CDC during the successful rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, and the approval of updated boosters, her tenure was not without faults, including those she acknowledged in a review conducted last summer.

"For 75 years, CDC and public health have been preparing for COVID-19, and in our big moment, our performance did not reliably meet expectations," Walensky said in August in an internal video to employees in August 2022, which was viewed by ABC News at the time. "To be frank, we are responsible for some pretty dramatic, pretty public mistakes. From testing, to data, to communications."

"All of us collectively are being asked to look to the future and build a stronger CDC to tackle what lies ahead. This is our watershed moment," she added.

PHOTO: CDC Director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky gives Dr. Jennifer Ashton, ABC News Chief Medical Correspondent rare access inside the CDC's Emergency Operations Center in Atlanta, Dec. 8, 2021
CDC Director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky gives Dr. Jennifer Ashton, ABC News Chief Medical Correspondent rare access inside the CDC's Emergency Operations Center in Atlanta, Dec. 8, 2021
Matt Miller/ABC

It comes after an internal review, which Walensky ordered in April 2022, criticized the agency’s performance during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The review found that it "takes too long for CDC to publish its data and science for decision making," that its guidance is "confusing and overwhelming" and that agency staff turnover during the COVID-19 response "created gaps and other challenges for partners," according to findings obtained by ABC News at the time.

In response, Walensky ordered an “ambitious” overhaul, including creating a new executive council reporting to Walensky to "determine agency priorities, track progress, and align budget decisions, with a bias toward public health impact."

ABC News Sasha Pezenik contributed to this report.