WASHINGTON, DC – Greek-American Dr. Demetre Daskalakis has been named Senior Vaccine Equity Lead at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Washington Post reported. Dr. Daskalakis had previously been the CDC’s Director of the Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention (DHAP) in the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention (NCHHSTP), a position he began in December 2020. Prior to that, he had spent six years in the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and “was the city’s deputy commissioner for disease control during the first nine months of the pandemic,” the Post reported.
With many years of experience in HIV prevention and control, Dr. Daskalakis will oversee “vaccine equity efforts, according to a person familiar with the move and an internal memo, underscoring the agency’s efforts to address racial and other disparities threatening the nation’s immunization effort,” the Post reported, adding that “he will report directly to Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the new director of the CDC.”
Dr. Daskalakis’ “responsibilities will include running outreach to states and other jurisdictions as they strive to close yawning racial gaps that have opened up in early immunization data, as well as coordinating with retail pharmacies and community health centers, which are cornerstones of the Biden administration’s efforts to bring shots to vulnerable communities buffeted most severely by the coronavirus,” the Post reported, noting that “the new position is a signal of the emphasis placed by the Biden administration on equity in its response to the pandemic.”
Dr. Daskalakis, a first generation Greek-American, told The National Herald in a previous interview that his parents were both from Evrytania, his father from Megalo Chorio and his mother from Karpenisi, and they instilled a relentless work ethic as they worked hard to ensure a better life for their son. Gratitude, he told TNH, is also an important part of the heritage instilled by his parents.
Though Dr. Daskalakis did not respond to a request for comment at press time, he “will be the main CDC liaison to the White House team focused on these issues,” the Post reported, adding that “chief among them is Marcella Nunez-Smith, a former associate dean for health equity research at the Yale School of Medicine who is chairing the administration’s COVID-19 health equity task force.”
In an interview in March 2020, Dr. Daskalakis told the Post, “We’re telling New Yorkers that they should assume that everyone has been exposed to COVID-19.”
In his new role, he will be facing challenges, including “a lack of data,” the Post reported, noting that “race and ethnicity data was missing for nearly half of all coronavirus vaccine recipients during the first month shots were available, federal researchers reported in February.”
According to his biography on the CDC website, Dr. Daskalakis began his career as an attending physician at Bellevue Hospital in New York City where he spearheaded several public health programs focused on community HIV testing and prevention. He then served in a number of capacities in both healthcare and public health in NYC. As the Deputy Commissioner for the Division of Disease Control at the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Dr. Daskalakis directed the public health laboratory and all infectious disease control programs for NYC, including HIV, tuberculosis, sexually transmitted infections, vaccine-preventable diseases, and general communicable diseases. In this role, he led one of the largest divisions in the Department, employing more than 1,100 staff, managing a budget of over $350 million, and operating 14 clinical facilities. In addition to his leadership in daily infectious disease control efforts, he has served as the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene incident commander during the measles outbreak of 2018-2019, as well as the current COVID-19 public health emergency since January 2020.
Dr. Daskalakis grew up in Arlington, VA. He received his medical education from the NYU School of Medicine and completed his residency training at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. He also completed clinical infectious disease fellowships at the Brigham and Women’s Massachusetts General Hospital combined program and received a Master of Public Health from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. He has authored or co-authored more than 50 scholarly articles and has received numerous awards for his scientific and public health contributions, including the Treatment Action Group Research in Action Award, the Latino Commission on AIDS Esperanza Award, the GMHC Hector Xtravagnza Xcellence Award, and the World AIDS Day awards from both New York City and New York State. He has also been recognized as a prominent voice for the LGBTQIA+ community by the New York Times, City and State, Out magazine, Metrosource, and Paper magazine.