CCID Spectrum
Volume 1, Number 4 September 2006

NCIRD Milestones

Wharton named NCIRD deputy director

Melinda Wharton, MD, MPH
Melinda Wharton, MD, MPH

Anne Schuchat, MD, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD, proposed) has appointed Melinda Wharton, MD, MPH, to the position of deputy director of NCIRD. Said Dr. Schuchat in her announcement of the appointment, “Dr. Wharton brings a wealth of experience in public health, epidemiology, infectious disease, and immunization leadership to this position and I am delighted to know she will be part of our core center leadership for the years to come.”

Wharton graduated from the University of Oklahoma with highest honors in history, and received an MD from Harvard Medical School and an MPH from Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health. She completed internal medicine residency at the University of Michigan and an infectious diseases fellowship at Duke University. Following EIS experience with the Tennessee Department of Health and Environment, she served as medical epidemiologist with the Epidemiology Program Office before joining the National Immunization Program, where since 1992 she has worked with and then led the Infant Immunization Section within the Surveillance, Investigations, and Research Branch, and later headed the Child Vaccine Preventable Diseases Branch, before serving as director of the Epidemiology and Surveillance Division from 2000-2004. Since that time she has served as acting deputy director of the National Immunization Program, and more recently as acting deputy director of NCIRD.

“Wharton has made important contributions to virtually every vaccine-preventable disease in the United States,” Schuchat said. Her work has been recognized with NIP’s Philip Horne Award, the CDC’s Charles C. Shepard Science Award, and multiple Secretary’s Awards for Distinguished Service, among other honors. She has provided leadership to CDC’s efforts in vaccine shortages, immunization safety, vaccine policy and preparedness, and emergency response activities, and has published extensively on vaccine-preventable diseases, immunization policy, and vaccine safety and acceptance, in addition to serving as editor of the first three editions of the Manual for the Surveillance of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases.

Former NIP branch head Frank DeStefano retires

After serving more than 23 years in the U.S. Public Health Service, Frank DeStefano, MD, MPH, retired from CDC on September 1, 2006. A medical epidemiologist, in October 2004 Dr. DeStefano was appointed acting chief of the Immunization Safety Branch of the National Immunization Program, now known as the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (proposed). Subsequently, he was selected to serve as the acting director of the Immunization Safety Office when immunization safety activities were relocated to the Office of the Chief Science Officer in April 2005. He served in that capacity until January of this year when he was named director of the Vaccine Safety Datalink project.

DeStefano received a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University in 1974 and a doctor of medicine degree from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in 1978. After an internship in pediatrics at the University of Rochester School of Medicine, DeStefano joined CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) in 1979 and completed the CDC preventive medicine residency in 1982. He received a master of public health degree from Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health in 1984. He is board certified in preventive medicine and is a fellow of the American College of Preventive Medicine.

Dr. DeStefano’s career included assignments with the Immunization Division and Family Planning Evaluation Division during his EIS and preventive medicine years. From 1982-84, he was a medical officer at the National Institutes of Health, where he continued his research in reproductive health and contraceptive evaluation. In 1982, he returned to CDC as a senior epidemiologist in the Agent Orange projects. In 1988, he was named chief of the Epidemiology and Statistics Branch of the Division of Diabetes Translation.

DeStefano left government service from 1992 to 1996 to take a position at the Marshfield Medical Research Foundation in Marshfield, Wisconsin, where he headed the epidemiology section. He returned to CDC in 1996 and worked primarily in immunization safety for the next 10 years.

As director of the Vaccine Safety Datalink project, DeStefano’s scientific and managerial leadership resulted in peer-reviewed publications and presentations at major scientific conferences, many of which helped to inform national immunization policy. He published one of the first studies suggesting an association between periodontal disease and coronary heart disease, which has since been confirmed in other studies. Now a growing field of research has developed on the role of infectious diseases in coronary heart disease.

DeStefano directed the development of a national diabetes surveillance system and the publication of the first national surveillance report on diabetes. He developed the protocol and helped implement an examination survey in Egypt of diabetes and diabetic complications. He led the team that performed the analyses and wrote the reports of the medical and psychological examination findings of a large CDC study of Vietnam veterans’ health; the findings helped guide policy and recommendations by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Congress. DeStefano authored more than 100 scientific publications and was appointed to the Research Officer Group of the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service.

DeStefano plans to join the Atlanta office of RTI International.

In memoriam: Donna Rickert

Senior Epidemiologist Donna Rickert, PhD, MPH, MA, died August 26, 2006. Dr. Rickert worked in the Health Services Research and Evaluation Branch, Immunization Services Division, National Center for Immunization Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD, proposed), formerly the National Immunization Program (NIP).

Before coming to CDC, Rickert led the Maternal-Child Epidemiology Division at South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control. She started her public health career at the Jefferson County Health Department in Birmingham, Alabama.

Rickert held a BA and MA in psychology, an MPH in epidemiology, and a doctorate in Maternal-Child Epidemiology from the School of Public Health, University of Alabama at Birmingham. She was a member of the National Honor Society, Phi Kappa Phi, and the National Science Honorary society, Sigma Xi, as well as a member of many professional societies. She was first author of a number of publications and worked closely with Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), a program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, developing a new methodology for WIC program personnel to use in assessing a child’s immunization status at the time of voucher pickup. Most recently, she was working on issues related to the introduction of new adolescent vaccines.

A member of CDC’s Katrina response, Rickert worked in New Orleans to assess the availability and need for mental health services.

She is survived immediately by her husband of 31 years, Dr. Edward J. Rickert of Atlanta, and her sons, Adrian Rickert and Dr. Jeff Rickert.