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Top CDC official resigns from post following reassignment

“Over this pandemic and through a many-decade career she’s made significant contributions, and she leaves behind a strong force of leadership and courage in all that she has done,” Walensky said during a press conference Friday.

Messonnier will join the Skoll Foundation on June 1, as the executive director for Pandemics and Health Systems, the foundation confirmed to POLITICO. She will lead the organization’s work on Covid-19 and preparedness for future infectious disease outbreaks.

The Washington Post first reported Messonnier’s resignation Friday morning.

Messonnier had spent more than 20 years at the CDC as a prominent respiratory disease expert. She became a central figure in the Trump administration’s chaotic early coronavirus response last February, when she told reporters the coronavirus outbreak would soon change the nation’s way of life.

“It’s not a question of if this will happen but when this will happen,” she said at the time, two weeks before the World Health Organization declared a pandemic. Her dire warning sent the stock market spiraling and contradicted assurances from top Trump appointees, catching the White House off guard.

An infuriated former President Donald Trump threatened to fire her, leading to the halt of regular CDC press briefings on the crisis and Messonnier’s sidelining from the administration’s communications.

Mesonnier was expected to reemerge in the wake of President Joe Biden’s election, as part of the new administration’s effort to put top scientists at the forefront of the Covid response and restore public trust in the federal government. But she clashed at times with Biden officials over decision-making, said two people familiar with the matter. The White House has not resumed regular CDC briefings, instead putting its own Covid-19 response team in charge of public messaging. Walensky has regularly participated in those briefings.

Messonnier’s recent reassignment came the day before the agency’s advisory panel on immunizations was set to meet to decide whether to lift a pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. She had played a prominent role in the agency’s work investigating the rare but severe blood clots that emerged in multiple individuals after vaccination. Federal officials have since lifted their recommend pause on use of the vaccine.

Messonnier’s position was absorbed into the CDC’s incident management response team headed by Walensky and Henry Walke, the director of the agency’s Division of Preparedness and Emerging Infections.

As of two weeks ago, Messonnier was still copied on agency emails and was referred to as an “adviser” of Walensky, two officials familiar with the matter said.

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