Former CDC director dies

Dr. David Sencer, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, died in an Atlanta hospital Monday after a bout of pneumonia at the age of 86.

Sencer was involved in many successful campaigns, including the CDC’s involvement in an international campaign to eradicate smallpox that was one of the agency’s first major steps into international public health. For many, however, Sencer is most remembered for his involvement in the 1976 swine flu vaccination campaign, the Associated Press reports.

Health officials at the time became alarmed when cases of a flu virus linked to swine were detected in soldiers at Fort Dix, N.J., including one young man who passed away. Sencer coordinated multiple high-level meetings and recommended that then-President Gerald Ford endorse a national vaccination campaign to prevent widespread illnesses and deaths.

 While over 40 million Americans were vaccinated, the epidemic never materialized. The government then began to receive dozens of reports of a paralyzing condition, Guillain-Barre syndrome, that was blamed on the vaccine, the AP reports. The campaign was suspended in December 1976 and Sencer lost his job.

“He was the scapegoat,” Dr. Howard Markel, a University of Michigan medical historian who knew Sencer personally, said, according to the AP. “I’d rather have somebody who over-reacted than someone who didn’t do enough.”

Markel said that Sencer will be remembered fondly in the public health community.

“He was the longest-serving CDC director and he may have been the most popular,” Dr. Stephen Thacker, a CDC official, said, according to the Associated Press.

After he left the CDC, Sencer served as the head of New York City’s health department. He was an advisor for the CDC during the 2009 swine flu pandemic.