Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, resigned Wednesday following reports that she bought shares in a tobacco company, among other financial dealings that presented a conflict of interest.
“Dr. Fitzgerald owns certain complex financial interests that have imposed a broad recusal limiting her ability to complete all of her duties as the CDC director,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services spokesman Matt Lloyd said in a news release. “Due to the nature of these financial interests, Dr. Fitzgerald could not divest from them in a definitive time period.”
Fitzgerald, an obstetrician-gynecologist, was appointed to run the CDC in July.
On Tuesday, Politico reported on documents that showed several investments, including one in a tobacco company, that Fitzgerald made after she took over the agency’s top job, National Public Radio reported on Wednesday. The CDC is a lead federal agency in preventing smoking and tobacco-related diseases. It is also the federal agency responsible for tracking and investigating foodborne illnesses.
Fitzgerald had come under fire on Capitol Hill for not divesting financial interests in other companies that present potential conflicts of interest, including drug maker Merck, health insurer Humana, and U.S. Food Holding Co.
The Politico report, relying on documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, said that one day after Fitzgerald bought stock in Japan Tobacco, she toured the CDC’s Tobacco Laboratory, which studies tobacco’s toxic effects, NPR reported. She sold the tobacco shares on Oct. 26, and all of her stock holdings above $1,000 by Nov. 21, well into her term as CDC director.
Fitzgerald previously served as commissioner of the Georgia Division of Public Health.
(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)