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At CDC, she stood up to Trump on COVID. Now she’ll lead UNC’s public health school.

·2 min read
Courtesy of UNC.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has appointed Nancy Messonnier, a former senior official with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who outraged President Donald Trump when she publicly raised alarms of the unprecedented health crisis from coronavirus, as the new dean of the Gillings School of Global Public Health.

Messonnier’s leadership and education in health were pivotal in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout despite differences with top White House officials who were still downplaying the severity of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020.

She had worked with the CDC from 1995 until 2021, when she was as director of the National Center of Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

At the forefront of the then-unknown respiratory disease in late 2019, Messonnier was among the first U.S. officials to warn of coronavirus danger.

“While we realize this is an unprecedented action, this is an unprecedented threat,” Messonnier said in January 2020.

In February, she said the disruption to everyday life could be “severe,” which triggered a stock market drop as pandemic fears grew.

Messonnier’s projection also brought her to Trump’s attention. He tried to have her fired and, the next day, put Vice President Mike Pence in charge of the White House’s response to the pandemic.

Though she had appeared in several White House briefings on the pandemic in 2019 and early 2020, Messonnier was sidelined and she appeared only intermittently.

But she remained the head of the CDC’s vaccine task force and continued to make the agency’s public briefings. In late 2020, she oversaw and implemented the first shipment of authorized vaccines throughout the country.

Messonnier eventually resigned from the CDC and joined the Skoll Foundation, a California private foundation that invests in entrepreneurs and inventors to advance pandemic and public health systems.

Messonnier’s appointment at UNC will begin on September 1 and “bring to Carolina more than 25 years of experience as a leader in public health,” according to a school press release.

“Messonnier joins the Gillings School during an exciting time of success,” the press release said.

Since 2016, the school has received more than $1 billion in funding, making it the top public school of public health in the country.

“This funding supports groundbreaking research, education and practice in all 100 North Carolina counties, 47 countries and five continents,” the press release said.

According to UNC’s announcement, Messonnier previously led the development of several vaccines, including those to prevent a meningitis epidemic in Africa and to defend against anthrax attacks. She is also dedicated to educating vaccine usage and addressing disparities in vaccination rates.

Messonnier’s expertise aligns with the Gillings School’s public health research, including health equity, vaccine development and chronic diseases, according to the UNC website.