On October 16, 2019, CDC Influenza Division Director Dan Jernigan was honored at the premier awards recognizing innovation and leadership in federal government: the so-called “Sammies.”
Jernigan, who has worked at CDC for 25 years, has led global responses to infectious disease outbreaks, including Ebola, SARS, West Nile virus and the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, while also working for the past decade to improve CDC’s ability to identify, prepare for and respond to both seasonal and pandemic flu.
Jernigan was the recipient of the 2019 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal for Science and Environment. The Sammies are presented by the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization whose mission is to help make the U.S. government more effective.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar presented the award to Jernigan, saying, “Most of us try to stay away from people with contagious illnesses, but not Dr. Daniel Jernigan, he goes towards them. During his 25 years with CDC, he’s travelled to investigate SARS in Taiwan and MERS in Saudi Arabia. He’s also worked on avian flu in China and the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.”
Jernigan started at CDC in 1994 as an Epidemic Intelligence Service officer (sometimes called a “Disease Detective”) working in the Respiratory Diseases Branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention where early on he was asked to investigate a Legionella outbreak. Since that first investigation 25 years ago, Jernigan has gone on to take leadership roles in CDC’s responses to dozens of contagious disease outbreaks both in the United States and around the world. Today, as Influenza Division Director, Jernigan oversees more than 300 scientists, public health experts, and other staff. At the awards ceremony on October 16, Jernigan recognized his colleagues, saying: “This award recognizes the work of many people at CDC and in the Influenza Division who are not afraid to jump into complicated situations and develop creative solutions. For flu, those innovations have contributed to averting thousands of deaths and tens of thousands of hospitalizations each year, avoiding illnesses that did not need to occur.”
Nancy Messonnier, MD, Director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said that Jernigan’s “ability to manage and lead through any crisis with intelligence and humor and camaraderie” makes his presence valuable in any global health crises.
Anne Schuchat, MD, CDC’s Principal Deputy Director, commends his ability to innovate. “[Dr. Jernigan] is able to see very far ahead to where we need to go and find innovative ways to get there, whether it’s reinventing how we characterize flu viruses or making laboratories more efficient and ready to surge when there’s a pandemic or bad flu season,” she said.
But whether Jernigan is looking to solve a problem in real time, or one that has yet to happen, it’s the fact that he’s able to do so every day that keeps him at CDC.
“The ability to effect change very quickly and having the tools to do it is what makes it worth it,” he said. “Plus, I get to work with incredible people as well.”
Learn more about the work Dr. Jernigan and the Influenza Division are doing by visiting www.cdc.gov/flu.
To learn more about the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals, visit https://servicetoamericamedals.orgexternal icon.