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CDC Scientist Wins Avery Award

By Desir'ee Robinson

 Photo: Dr. Cynthia Whitney

Approximately one million people die each year from vaccine preventable pneumococcal diseases. Of those deaths, most are children in developing countries. It is a problem Cynthia Whitney, MD, has a passion to solve through vaccination: a passion that recently earned the young CDC scientist the 2006 Oswald Avery Award from the Infectious Disease Society of America (IDSA).

"Our focus is on telling people our success stories with vaccines and helping introduce them in other countries," said Whitney, who serves as acting chief of the Respiratory Diseases Branch, Division of Bacterial and Mycotic Diseases (proposed), National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD, proposed). "In the United States, we also have more work to do in tracking drug-resistant strains of pneumococcus and understanding what strains are emerging now that we have the vaccine."

On October 13, 2006, because of Dr. Whitney's innovative research in the epidemiology of pneumococcal diseases, she was named the 2006 Oswald Avery Award recipient by the IDSA. The award, previously known as the Squibb Award, recognizes the outstanding work by individuals—aged 45 or younger—in the area of infectious diseases.

Humbling Experience…

"I think it is an incredible honor, and I feel very humble when I look at the other people who have received the award such as former CDC deputy director Dr. Claire Broome," said Whitney. "My work is very much a team effort with members in the respiratory disease branch and other researchers around the country who take part in the emerging infections program."

Whitney, a graduate of the University of Minnesota Medical School, started her career at CDC in 1997 as an epidemic intelligence service officer in the Childhood and Respiratory Diseases Branch. She later earned her MPH degree from the Harvard School of Public Health. In 2003, Whitney was appointed chief of the Pneumococcal Epidemiology Section.

Since then, she has been credited with directing the development of the initial Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices policy for use of 7-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV7) in children. The policy aided in the appropriate administration of PCV7 to approximately 14-million children, which prevented about 61,000 cases of serious pneumococcal disease and 2,000 deaths from 2000 to 2004.

Saving Lives Globally

"The hard work and research of Dr. Whitney and the Respiratory Disease Branch supports what we have known all along—that childhood vaccination programs are key in our effort to save lives everyday and everywhere," says CDC Director Julie L. Gerberding, MD, MPH. "Doctor Whitney exemplifies the energy and distinction CDC's young scientists bring to public health."

The IDSA represents physicians, scientists, and other health care professionals who specialize in infectious diseases. Their purpose is to improve the health of individuals, communities, and society by promoting excellence in patient care, education, research, public health, and prevention relating to infectious diseases. The IDSA held their annual conference and awards ceremony in Toronto, Canada, this week.

Page last modified: 10/16/2006