April 29, 2020 at 10:29 pm EDT | by Peter Rosenstein
Dr. Birx: brilliant doctor with Trump issues
Deborah Birx, gay news, Washington Blade
Dr. Deborah Birx (Photo public domain)

There is little question that Dr. Deborah Birx is a brilliant doctor/researcher. It is clear the problem she is having working in the White House Coronavirus Task Force is how to stay true to her medical responsibility to the nation while keeping a working relationship with President Trump. It’s not been easy for her and seems at times she is failing by kowtowing to a president who is clearly a moron. 

According to Wikipedia, Dr. Birx was “an active duty reserve officer in the United States Army and then active duty regular Army, achieving the rank of Colonel. She worked as a physician at Walter Reed where she did a two-year residency in internal medicine and completed two fellowships in clinical immunology in the areas of allergies and diagnostics, where she worked in Dr. Anthony Fauci’s lab. She was a clinician in immunology, eventually focusing on HIV/AIDS vaccine research. She was then at NIH as an investigator specializing in cellular immunology. She returned to Walter Reed, and worked in the Department of Retroviral Research, first as an assistant chief and then chief of the division. She was lab director in HIV-1 Vaccine Development for a year. She became the director of the United States Military HIV Research Program at the Walter Reed Army HIV Research Program where she led the HIV vaccine clinical trial of RV 144, the first supporting evidence of any vaccine being effective in lowering the risk of contracting HIV. Dr. Birx went on to serve as the director of CDC’s Division of Global HIV/AIDS (DGHA), part of the agency’s Center for Global Health. In 2014, President Obama nominated her, and she was confirmed by the Senate on a voice vote, to be the Ambassador at Large and U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator as part of the PEPFAR program. 

So whatever you think about Dr. Birx, let’s accept she is the right physician/researcher to be on the Coronavirus Task Force. 

When reading comments about Dr. Birx there are two threads that emerge. One is sexism, which a woman of substance can never escape. The second is how she has often refused to directly criticize Trump either from the podium or in her TV appearances. Contrary to Dr. Fauci, who has a platform at NIH from which to speak, when she makes a TV appearance it is with the approval of the White House as a member of the Task Force. In some ways, Fauci has challenged Trump to fire him and Trump has backed down. Dr. Birx doesn’t have his stature to do that and as some of my contacts have said she is the one on the task force that by keeping a cordial relationship with Trump can privately give him bad news. Clearly his toady Pence can’t. Some think she may be angling for the job of HHS Secretary. If that were true, she would be miles ahead of Azar who is there now.

Last weekend listening to the Sunday talk shows I was disappointed with Dr. Birx. I think she could have been more direct in her answers. She has been castigated for not jumping up and grabbing the podium to refute Trump when he made his ridiculous comments on ingesting or injecting Lysol/bleach. But the news media showed her body language when Trump was talking about that and she clearly wanted to hide. She was squirming and purposely not looking back at him. So the debate about her will go on. 

The question many are asking: Is it better to have someone with her knowledge and ability on the inside or should she go rogue and work outside of the administration. I hope she stays on the inside because right now she has the ability to serve the American people better in the long run that way. There are plenty of doctors and experts on every TV station but only she has the ear of Trump and can try to ensure he at least hears about good science even if he disregards it.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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