Deborah Birx

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Deborah Birx
Deborah Birx in April 2020 face detail, from- White House Coronavirus Update Briefing (49742678236) (cropped).jpg
White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator
Assumed office
February 27, 2020
PresidentDonald Trump
Preceded byPosition established
United States Special Representative for Global Health Diplomacy
Assumed office
January 2015[a]
PresidentBarack Obama
Donald Trump
Preceded byEric Goosby
Leslie V. Rowe (acting)
Elizabeth Jordan (acting)
United States Global AIDS Coordinator
Assumed office
April 4, 2014
PresidentBarack Obama
Donald Trump
DeputyMark N. Brown
Angeli Achrekar
Preceded byEric Goosby
Personal details
Deborah Leah Birx

(1956-04-04) April 4, 1956 (age 64)
Carlisle, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Spouse(s)Paige Reffe[1][2]
EducationHoughton College (BS)
Pennsylvania State University (MD)
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Army
Years of service1980–1994 (reserve)
1994–2008 (active)
AwardsLegion of Merit
Birx with Vice President Mike Pence in March 2020

Deborah Leah Birx (born April 4, 1956) is an American physician and diplomat who has served as the United States Global AIDS Coordinator for Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump since 2014; she has additionally served as the Coronavirus Response Coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force since February 2020.[3][4] She specializes in HIV/AIDS immunology, vaccine research and global health,[5] and was responsible for the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) program in 65 countries supporting HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention programs.[6]

Early life and education[edit]

Birx was born in Pennsylvania. She is the daughter of Donald Birx, a mathematician and electrical engineer, and Adele Sparks Birx, a nursing instructor.[7][8][9] Her late brother Danny was a scientist who founded a research company, and her older brother, Don Birx, is president of Plymouth State University.[10]

Her family lived in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, during her early life, where she attended Lampeter-Strasburg High School.[9] Growing up, the siblings used a shed behind their family home as a makeshift lab for experiments in astronomy, geology, biology, and on one occasion, a homemade satellite dish antenna mounted on roller skates.[10]

In Birx's sophomore year she won third place at the Lancaster City-County Science Fair, and she was featured in a front-page story in the Lancaster New Era with the subhead: Girls Sweep Top 3 Prizes.[9] She told the Intelligencer Journal that, "third is alright, but I'll be back. I want that first prize." Her junior year she competed in the International Science and Engineering Fair in San Diego.[10] Her family moved and she attended Carlisle High for her final year of high school.[11][12] In her senior year, she competed at the Capital Area Science Fair and was awarded the Grand Prize.[13] Her brother says that her experience competing in the fairs "really was part of encouraging her to go into science."[10]

In 1976, Birx received a BS in chemistry from Houghton College, completing her undergraduate studies in just two years.[12] In 1980, Birx earned an MD from the Hershey Medical Center, Pennsylvania State University.[7]


From 1980 to 1994, Birx served as an active duty reserve officer in the United States Army. From 1994 to 2008, Birx was active duty regular Army, achieving the rank of Colonel.[11]

From 1980 to 1989, Birx worked as a physician at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.[14] In 1981, Birx completed a one-year internship and did a two-year residency in internal medicine. From 1983 to 1986, she completed two fellowships in clinical immunology in the areas of allergies and diagnostics, where she worked in Anthony Fauci's lab.[4] From 1985 to 1989, Birx was the assistant chief of the Walter Reed Allergy/Immunology Service. Birx started her career as a clinician in immunology, eventually focusing on HIV/AIDS vaccine research.[4][14]

From 1986 to 1989, Birx worked at the National Institutes of Health as an investigator specializing in cellular immunology.[14]

Birx returned to Walter Reed, where from 1989 to 1995 she worked in the Department of Retroviral Research, first as an assistant chief and then as chief of the division. She was lab director in HIV-1 Vaccine Development for a year. Birx became the Director of the United States Military HIV Research Program at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, a position she held for nine years, from 1996 to 2005. In that position, Birx led the HIV vaccine clinical trial of RV 144, the first supporting evidence of any vaccine being effective in lowering the risk of contracting HIV.[14]


From 2005 to 2014, Birx served as the director of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Division of Global HIV/AIDS (DGHA), part of the agency's Center for Global Health.[15]

President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief[edit]

In January 2014, President Barack Obama nominated Birx to be the Ambassador at Large and U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator as part of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) program.[16][17]

Birx was confirmed by the Senate by voice vote on April 2, 2014,[18] and was sworn in two days later.[19] She described her role as ambassador to help meet the HIV prevention and treatment targets set by Obama in 2015 to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030.[20] Her role has focused on the areas of HIV/AIDS immunology, vaccine research, and global health issues around HIV/AIDS.[3] As part of her work with HIV prevention, Birx created a program called DREAMS (Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe), a public-private partnership focused on reducing infection rates in adolescent populations.[21]

White House Coronavirus Task Force[edit]

On February 27, 2020, Vice President Mike Pence appointed Birx to the position of White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator. As part of this role, Birx reports to Pence on the White House Coronavirus Task Force.[3][22] Pence called her his "right arm" on the task force.[23]

In televised briefings, Birx interpreted data on the virus, urged the public to practice social distancing, and tried to avoid publicly contradicting Trump, who frequently offered unscientific digressions.[24]

On March 26, 2020, Birx sought to reassure Americans in a press conference[25] that "there is no situation in the United States right now that warrants that kind of discussion [that ventilators or ICU hospital beds might be in limited supply] ... You can be thinking about it ... but to say that to the American people, to make the implication that when they need a hospital bed, it's not going to be there, or when they need that ventilator, it's not going to be there, we don't have evidence of that right now."[26]

Birx led the creation of a reopening plan presented by Trump on April 16, 2020, with voluntary standards for states to end coronavirus lockdowns.[27]

During the state reopenings, Birx warned individuals to continue precautions against the virus, and opposed some activities like professional haircuts. "You need to continue to social distance," she said on May 3, 2020.[28]

In July 2020, a working group convened by Birx ordered hospitals to bypass the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and instead send all COVID-19 patient information to a database at the Department of Health and Human Services. Some health experts opposed the order and warned that the data might become politicized or withheld from the public.[29] Birx, who had criticized hospitals and the CDC for being slow to gather data, helped select the data firm Palantir to help run HHS’ new system.[30]

On August 2, 2020, Birx recommended that people living with someone vulnerable to COVID-19 consider wearing masks at home. She said that the United States was in a "new phase" of the coronavirus epidemic that was "extraordinarily widespread".[31]

Critics have alleged that Birx minimized the dangers of coronavirus and downplayed equipment shortfalls. She was the White House's chief proponent for the idea in April that COVID-19 infections had peaked and the virus was fading quickly,[32] when afterward infections surged.[33] A board member at the American College of Emergency Physicians, Dr. Ryan A. Stanton, said Birx sounded like “the builders of the Titanic saying the ship can’t sink." Birx was also accused of squandering her credibility and bringing her independence into question with her public praise of Trump, whom many believed bungled the coronavirus response.[34]

Personal life[edit]

Birx lives with her parents, husband, and the family of one of her daughters in a multi-generational home.[35][36] Birx's husband, Paige Reffe, is a lawyer who held managerial roles in the Carter, Reagan, and Clinton administrations.[37][38]


Awards and honors[edit]

Selected works and publications[edit]

  • Birx DL, Redfield RR, Tosato G (April 3, 1986). "Defective Regulation of Epstein–Barr Virus Infection in Patients with Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) or AIDS-Related Disorders". New England Journal of Medicine. 314 (14): 874–879. doi:10.1056/NEJM198604033141403. PMID 3005862. Wikidata page Wikidata (View with Reasonator)
  • Redfield RR, Birx DL, Ketter N, Tramont E, Polonis V, Davis C, Brundage JF, Smith G, Johnson S, Fowler A (June 13, 1991). "A Phase I Evaluation of the Safety and Immunogenicity of Vaccination with Recombinant gp160 in Patients with Early Human Immunodeficiency Virus Infection". New England Journal of Medicine. 324 (24): 1677–1684. doi:10.1056/NEJM199106133242401. PMID 1674589. Wikidata page Wikidata (View with Reasonator)
  • Wolfe ND, Heneine W, Carr JK, Garcia AD, Shanmugam V, Tamoufe U, Torimiro JN, Prosser AT, Lebreton M, Mpoudi-Ngole E, McCutchan FE, Birx DL, Folks TM, Burke DS, Switzer WM (May 23, 2005). "Emergence of unique primate T-lymphotropic viruses among central African bushmeat hunters". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 102 (22): 7994–7999. doi:10.1073/pnas.0501734102. PMID 15911757. Wikidata page Wikidata (View with Reasonator)
  • Rerks-Ngarm, Supachai; Pitisuttithum, Punnee; Nitayaphan, Sorachai; Kaewkungwal, Jaranit; Chiu, Joseph; Paris, Robert; Premsri, Nakorn; Namwat, Chawetsan; de Souza, Mark; Adams, Elizabeth; Benenson, Michael; Gurunathan, Sanjay; Tartaglia, Jim; McNeil, John G.; Francis, Donald P.; Stablein, Donald; Birx, Deborah L.; Chunsuttiwat, Supamit; Khamboonruang, Chirasak; Thongcharoen, Prasert; Robb, Merlin L.; Michael, Nelson L.; Kunasol, Prayura; Kim, Jerome H. (December 3, 2009). "Vaccination with ALVAC and AIDSVAX to Prevent HIV-1 Infection in Thailand". New England Journal of Medicine. 361 (23): 2209–2220. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa0908492. PMID 19843557. Wikidata page Wikidata (View with Reasonator)
  • Abdool Karim Q, Baxter C, Birx D (May 2017). "Prevention of HIV in Adolescent Girls and Young Women". JAIDS Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes. 75: S17–S26. doi:10.1097/QAI.0000000000001316. PMID 28398993. Wikidata page Wikidata (View with Reasonator)
  • Raizes E, Hader S, Birx D (November 15, 2017). "The US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and HIV Drug Resistance: Mitigating Risk, Monitoring Impact". The Journal of Infectious Diseases. 216 (suppl_9): S805–S807. doi:10.1093/infdis/jix432.
  • Nkengasong JN, Mbopi-Keou FX, Peeling RW, Yao K, Zeh CE, Schneidman M, Gadde R, Abimiku A, Onyebujoh P, Birx D, Hader S (November 2018). "Laboratory medicine in Africa since 2008: then, now, and the future". The Lancet Infectious Diseases. 18 (11): e362–e367. doi:10.1016/S1473-3099(18)30120-8. PMID 29980383. Wikidata page Wikidata (View with Reasonator)

Explanatory notes[edit]

  1. ^ Office originally separate from that of Global AIDS Coordinator until their merge into the Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and Health Diplomacy in 2015.



  1. ^ "Deborah Birx’s Husband Is Former Clinton ‘Advance Man’ Paige Reffe",, Apr 3, 2020. Accessed April 26, 2020.
  2. ^ Bass, Emily, "Can Deborah Birx Save Us?", The Washington Post, March 26, 2020
  3. ^ a b c Pence, Mike (February 27, 2020). "Vice President Pence Announces Ambassador Debbie Birx to Serve as the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator" (Press release). The White House.
  4. ^ a b c Stolberg, Sheryl Gay (March 6, 2020). "Top Coronavirus Official for U.S. Has Fought an Epidemic Before". The New York Times.
  5. ^ Das, Pamela (November 2016). "Deborah L Birx: on a mission to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic". The Lancet. 388 (10060): 2583. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(16)32227-9.
  6. ^ Rushton, Mary (2015). "Six Prominent Women Scientists Making a Difference in the AIDS Fight". IAVI Report. 19 (2).
  7. ^ a b Kerry, John (April 25, 2014). "Remarks at Swearing-in Ceremony for Ambassador-at-Large and Coordinator of the USG Activities to Combat HIV/AIDS Deborah Birx". U.S. Department of State.
  8. ^ "Class News". Johns Hopkins Nursing Magazine. Johns Hopkins School of Nursing (26). July 21, 2016.
  9. ^ a b c Reinert, Jed (March 20, 2020). "White House coronavirus response coordinator found early success at Lancaster County science fairs". LNP. Archived from the original on March 31, 2020. Retrieved April 4, 2020.
  10. ^ a b c d Paul, Aparna (April 23, 2020). "From ISEF to the White House, Dr. Deborah Birx leads the country during a public health crisis". Society for Science & the Public. Retrieved April 24, 2020.
  11. ^ a b Gitt, Tammie (February 28, 2020). "White House names Carlisle High School grad to serve as chief adviser on coronavirus response team". The Sentinel.
  12. ^ a b "CHS Alum Heads Coronavirus Task Force". Coronavirus Task Force Carlisle Area School District News. Retrieved April 24, 2020.
  13. ^ "HIGHLIGHT OF ONE OF OUR OWN". Capital Area Science and Engineering Fair. Retrieved April 24, 2020. Dr. Deborah Birx is a graduate of Carlisle High School and the Capital Area Science & Engineering Fair Senior Grand Champion of 1973.
  14. ^ a b c d e "Birx, Deborah L., M.D." U.S. Department of State. 2017.
  15. ^ Birx, Deborah L. (March 6, 2014). "Written Testimony: Deborah L. Birx, MD Ambassador at Large Designate and Coordinator Designate, Department of State, United States Government Activities to Combat HIV/AIDS Globally Senate Foreign Relations Committee" (PDF). Senate Foreign Relations Committee. U.S. Senate.
  16. ^ Markey, Edward J. (March 6, 2014). "Nominations of Deborah Birx; Suzan LeVine; Maureen Cormack; and Peter Selfridge" (PDF). United States Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations.
  17. ^ Cardin, Ben (January 10, 2014). "Cardin Welcomes the Nomination of Dr. Deborah L. Birx of Maryland to be Ambassador at Large and Coordinator of United States Government Activities to Combat HIV/AIDS Globally". U.S. Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland.
  18. ^ "PN1312 — Deborah L. Birx — Department of State". Retrieved April 26, 2020.
  19. ^ "Dr. Deborah Birx Sworn-In as New U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator". U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS relief (Press release). April 4, 2014. Archived from the original on March 25, 2015.
  20. ^ Birx, Deborah (April 14, 2016). "Harnessing the Data Revolution for an AIDS-Free Generation". HuffPost.
  21. ^ "Making the Dream to End HIV a Reality by Empowering Adolescent Girls and Young Women: Emerging lessons from the DREAMS partnership". Population Council. June 15, 2018.
  22. ^ Shear, Michael (February 29, 2020). "Who's on the U.S. Coronavirus Task Force: Dr. Deborah L. Birx". The New York Times.
  23. ^ Kelly, Caroline. "Pence's 'right arm' on coronavirus response has lengthy experience battling HIV epidemic". CNN. Retrieved July 19, 2020.
  24. ^ "Virus coordinator Birx is Trump's data-whisperer". AP NEWS. March 28, 2020. Retrieved July 19, 2020.
  25. ^ Noack, Rick; Mettler, Katie; Knowles, Hannah; Armus, Teo; Berger, Miriam (March 26, 2020). "Coronavirus death toll in U.S. reaches 1,000 as number of confirmed cases passes China". The Washington Post.
  26. ^ Schwartz, Ian (March 26, 2020). "Dr. Birx: Coronavirus Data Doesn't Match The Doomsday Media Predictions". Real Clear Politics.
  27. ^ "Inside Trump's Failure: The Rush to Abandon Leadership Role on the Virus - The New York Times". July 19, 2020. Retrieved July 19, 2020.
  28. ^ "Birx On 'Stay-At-Home' Protests: 'Devastatingly Worrisome'". Retrieved July 19, 2020.
  29. ^ Stolberg, Sheryl Gay (July 14, 2020). "Trump Administration Strips C.D.C. of Control of Coronavirus Data". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved August 6, 2020.
  30. ^ "Who took down the CDC's coronavirus data? The agency itself". POLITICO. Retrieved August 6, 2020.
  31. ^ Carey, Benedict (August 2, 2020). "Birx Says U.S. Epidemic Is in a 'New Phase'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved August 6, 2020.
  32. ^ Shear, Michael D. (July 18, 2020). "Inside the Failure: 5 Takeaways on Trump's Effort to Shift Responsibility". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Archived from the original on July 19, 2020. Retrieved July 19, 2020.
  33. ^ Hawkins, Derek; Sonmez, Felicia (July 19, 2020). "Coronavirus updates: Trump dismisses rising cases as deaths mount". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on July 19, 2020. Retrieved July 19, 2020.
  34. ^ Weiland, Noah; Haberman, Maggie (March 27, 2020). "For Dr. Deborah Birx, Urging Calm Has Come With Heavy Criticism". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Archived from the original on July 19, 2020. Retrieved July 19, 2020.
  35. ^ Bass, Emily. "Can Deborah Birx save us from the coronavirus?". Washington Post. Retrieved July 29, 2020.
  36. ^ Burgess, Phil (March 20, 2020). "Phil Burgess: Deborah Birx is the grandmother coordinating the White House response to coronavirus pandemic". Capital Gazette.
  37. ^ Walsh, S. M. (April 3, 2020). "Deborah Birx's Husband Is Former Clinton 'Advance Man' Paige Reffe". Retrieved August 2, 2020.
  38. ^ "Project on Transitional Democracy - Mr. Paige E. Reffe - Secretary". Retrieved August 2, 2020.
  39. ^ "Members of the Board: United States of America: Board Member – Deborah L. Birx". The Global Fund. Retrieved March 22, 2020.
  40. ^ "Deborah L. Birx, M.D." U.S. Department of State.
  41. ^ Redfield, MC, LTC Robert R. (November–December 1991). "Therapy in HIV Positive Patients Using Recombinant GP160 Vaccine". Army Research, Development & Acquisition Bulletin PB 70-91-6. HQ, U.S. Army Materiel Command. 91 (6): 36–37.
  42. ^ White, Corey (January 10, 2014). "ASLM Commends Nomination of Dr. Deborah Birx as United States Global AIDS Coordinator". African Society for Laboratory Medicine (ASLM).
  43. ^ "IRC Awardees". International Relations Council.


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Eric Goosby
United States Global AIDS Coordinator