(Reuters) – Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald has resigned her post as director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over financial conflicts of interest, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said on Wednesday.
Her departure from the top U.S. public health agency comes in the middle of the country’s worst flu season in several years.
Newly confirmed HHS Secretary Alex Azar said he had accepted Fitzgerald’s resignation because of her “complex financial interests” that have forced her to recuse herself from a broad range of her duties as the CDC director.
Due to the nature of these financial interests, the HHS said, Fitzgerald could not divest them in a definitive time period. The White House declined comment, referring questions to HHS.
Politico reported on Tuesday that Fitzgerald, a physician and former commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health, bought shares in a tobacco company a month into her leadership of CDC, an agency charged with safeguarding public health, including reducing rates of smoking. She took over leadership at CDC in July.
After advising the HHS secretary of the status of her financial interests and they way in which it limited her ability to do her job, Azar accepted her resignation, HHS said in a statement.
Fitzgerald is the second top health official from the Trump Administration to resign, following the resignation in September of Trump’s first health secretary, former U.S. Representative Tom Price, over his use of expensive taxpayer-funded private charter jets for government travel.
The CDC has been making weekly updates on this year’s flu season, which remains widespread across the country and is on track to be one of the most severe since 2014/2015, when 34 million people were sickened by the virus and 710,000 were hospitalized.
A CDC spokeswoman could not immediately say who would be filling in for the director or leading the U.S. flu effort.
Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago; additional reporting by Ankur Banerjee in Bengaluru and Roberta Rampton in Washington; Editing by Maju Samuel and David Gregorio