has been refreshed! Take a tour.

Issue Number 440            January 28, 2004


  1. Dr. Walter Orenstein leaves a legacy of exceptional accomplishment with his retirement from the National Immunization Program


Back to Top

(1 of 1)
January 28, 2004

On January 6, Walter Orenstein, MD, announced his retirement as director of the National Immunization Program (NIP). His retirement is effective March 1, when he will join the Emory University School of Medicine as director of the Program for Vaccine Policy and Development and associate director of the Emory Vaccine Center.

Dr. Steve Cochi has been appointed NIP's acting director and Dr. Melinda Wharton has been appointed acting deputy director. During January and February, Dr. Orenstein will serve as Dr. Cochi's special advisor.

In his quarter century of work with NIP, Dr. Orenstein has inspired many thousands of public health professionals, including IAC executive director Dr. Deborah Wexler. "Walt's departure marks the end of an immunization era," she said. "I've been impressed by Walt's insightful leadership and dedication to making sure that the people of our nation and around the world are well immunized. His job has required an unimaginable amount of hard work. His will be difficult shoes to fill."

Dr. Orenstein's zest for immunization began early in his medical career. At a recent meeting of NIP staff, he said he had planned to become a pediatric nephrologist. Then he entered the Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) and worked on smallpox eradication. He said that while serving as an EIS officer, he saw a disease eradicated before his eyes, and it changed his life.

Alan Hinman, MD, MPH, principal investigator for All Kids Count of the Task Force for Child Survival and Development, preceded Dr. Orenstein as head of the U.S. immunization program. Dr. Hinman wrote the following in tribute to Dr. Orenstein: "I've known Walt since 1977. He was then, and is now enthusiastic, brilliant, hard working, and highly productive.

"Walt has provided outstanding leadership to the National Immunization Program, overseeing, among other things

  • the highest immunization levels ever in U.S. children
  • elimination of indigenous transmission of measles
  • CDC's involvement in the global polio eradication and measles control initiatives
  • introduction of hepatitis B, Hib, rotavirus, varicella, and pneumococcal conjugate vaccines
  • growth of the immunization program budget from approximately $40 million to more than $1 billion

"Walt is a tireless champion of immunizations and has had an extraordinary impact on the health of children, both in the United States and around the world. He will be sorely missed by NIP but will continue to play an important role in helping to improve health through immunization."

In a letter to his colleagues at NIP dated January 6, Dr. Orenstein wrote the following:


My career at CDC has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I have been privileged to be part of many successful efforts to protect and improve the public's health; each of which provided an opportunity to work together and in partnership with persons and groups throughout CDC, the United States, and the world. . . .

As I reflect on my time at NIP, I see many accomplishments that we can point to with much pride and satisfaction. Children with meningitis from Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), once a common occurrence on pediatric wards, have become a rarity. There are fewer than 20 cases of acquired rubella reported each year in the United States, down from over 57,000 cases in 1969 when rubella vaccine was first licensed. Marked gains have been made against varicella and invasive pneumococcal disease in children. It's been an honor and a privilege to have been a part of these successes. . . .

I'm looking forward to the new chapter in my life, but I leave NIP and CDC confident that both are in the hands of highly skilled and qualified colleagues. At NIP, each and every staff member contributes to our mission and to our success--and it truly has been a privilege to have had the opportunity to work with each of you. I have grown personally and professionally thanks to our interactions. And it is especially rewarding to know that you are well equipped to lead NIP into the future.

I look forward to continued interactions with NIP in my new position at Emory and wish you the best in your continuing efforts to assure that people do not suffer needlessly from vaccine-preventable diseases.


To access the complete text of Dr. Orenstein's letter, go to:

In a press release issued January 8, Emory Health Sciences detailed some of Dr. Orenstein's accomplishments as director of the National Immunization Program. A portion of the press release is reprinted below.


During Dr. Orenstein's tenure at the National Immunization Program, he has led successful efforts to combat and markedly reduce the occurrence of once common childhood diseases . . . The Immunization Program also has made major contributions: protecting adults from vaccine-preventable diseases through eliminating barriers to vaccination and developing new vaccine strategies, expanding vaccine safety efforts, improving risk communication, and promoting the use of immunization registries. Dr. Orenstein's CDC staff, working with global public health organizations and partners, reduced the number of polio cases worldwide from about 350,000 in 1988 to fewer than 700 in 2003. The number of countries with endemic polio was reduced from 125 in 1988 to only 6 at the end of 2003. . . .

He has served in leadership roles within the CDC's immunization program since 1982, and since 1993 has been Director of the National Immunization Program. He has served as a consultant to the World Health Organization and to the Pan American Health Association for programs in polio eradication, measles control, and smallpox eradication in India, Brazil, Argentina, and Peru.

Dr. Orenstein has served as an Assistant Surgeon General of the U.S. Public Health Service, and he currently serves as chairman of the World Health Organization's Technical Consultative Group on the Global Eradication of Poliomyelitis, as a member and rapporteur of the Pan American Health Organization's Technical Advisory Group on Vaccines and Immunization, as a member of the National Vaccine Advisory Committee, and as a member of the International Editorial Board for the journal "Vaccine." He served as an adjunct professor at the Rollins School of Public Health from 1992 until 2002. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Infectious Diseases Society of America, and the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society.

Dr. Orenstein's many honors and awards include the Commendation Medal and the Meritorious Service Medal from the U.S. Public Health Service; the Surgeon General's Exemplary Service Medal; the Excellence in Public Health Award of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, the Distinguished Service Award from the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society; and in 2003, the Excellence in Public Service Award of the American Academy of Pediatrics. . . .


To access the complete press release, go to:

About IZ Express

IZ Express is supported in part by Grant No. 1NH23IP922654 from CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. Its contents are solely the responsibility of and do not necessarily represent the official views of CDC.

IZ Express Disclaimer
ISSN 2771-8085

Editorial Information

  • Editor-in-Chief
    Kelly L. Moore, MD, MPH
  • Managing Editor
    John D. Grabenstein, RPh, PhD
  • Associate Editor
    Sharon G. Humiston, MD, MPH
  • Writer/Publication Coordinator
    Taryn Chapman, MS
    Courtnay Londo, MA
  • Style and Copy Editor
    Marian Deegan, JD
  • Web Edition Managers
    Arkady Shakhnovich
    Jermaine Royes
  • Contributing Writer
    Laurel H. Wood, MPA
  • Technical Reviewer
    Kayla Ohlde

This page was updated on .