Woman Driving Virus Fight: Dr. Rochelle Walensky

One of the new and refreshing voices to lead the nation over the past weeks has been Dr. Rochelle Walensky. If for no other reason she is to be applauded for echoing the majority reflection of sentiments expressed across the nation about science.

She cries as she gets the vaccine. “It’s amazing, it’s amazing,” Rochelle Walensky, M.D., M.P.H., murmurs as a nurse at Massachusetts General Hospital pierces her deltoid with a needle. “Usually it takes 10 to 15 years. The fact that we have it in one.…” Walensky shakes her head in wonder.

Yay for science,” the nurse says.

“Yay for science,” Walensky agrees.

Walensky had been chief of infectious diseases at Mass General but now is the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As the nation continues to find the resolve to continue the medically prescribed protocols for safety during the pandemic, and also look for the light at the end of the tunnel with mass vaccinations, we are guided by someone who is not only steeped in medical data and expertise but says the things so long neglected in the past four years from Washington.

“Yay for science”.

There were many reasons to applaud the intellects and serious-minded professionals from all points of the compass who have come together to form the administration of President Biden. With Walensky the nation is watching daily as a gifted infectious diseases physician and a proven leader in helping shape the needs of public health provides information and does so in an evidence-based manner.

During the “the other guy’s” term at the White House the tossing aside of science and facts was done so often and in such bizarre ways that it was best to just look away. Now there is no need to hide facts, or spin them so as not to upset a man-child in the Oval Office. Leaders and experts can again do their job in Washington.

The March edition of Vogue features an article about Walensky. The reason she struck me at the time of her appointment was due to what I had read about her ability to help shape opinions concerning health issues as evidenced by her work with HIV/AIDS. Now those same assets will be required in allowing certain people to understand the value of getting the vaccine.

One of the challenges she will face at the CDC is persuading vaccine-reluctant people to get the shot. Does this hesitancy frustrate you? I ask. “I don’t think it matters if it frustrates me,” she answers. “We need to understand the ‘why’ behind the hesitancy. In medical school we were taught to stay quiet after giving someone a new HIV diagnosis. It’s a painful, awful pause, but you need it so you can learn what they’re thinking. That diagnosis means different things to different people. Maybe they’re wondering, ‘Am I going to die?’ or ‘Is my kid infected?’ ‘Will I lose my job?’ Until you know what the diagnosis means for that person, you can’t address the next question. I think it’s similar with vaccine hesitancy. Are you worried about the side effects? Is it because you have no place to leave your kid while you get vaccinated? Are you worried about the science? We can’t address the noes until we understand them.”

During the past four years we were embarrassed by Donald Trump’s picks of people (such as Scott Atlas) who denigrated science, went out of their way to promote anti-scientific ideas, and inserted themselves into the policy apparatus for the sole purpose of undermining and interfering with science. Now that has been reversed with many bright and energized professionals who are worthy of our attention. Leading the COVID team is this woman who I am confident will not only fight COVID successfully, but also help restore faith in governing. That offshoot of Walensky’s fight to reverse COVID is also one needing to be fought.

I am strongly suspecting she wins on both points in the months to come.