"Dr. Foege's impact on the world's health has been extraordinary," said John Brauman, home secretary of the National Academy of Sciences and chair of the selection committee. "In terms of lives saved and freed from disease, he has changed the world as we know it."
An epidemiologist, Foege is perhaps best known for his contributions to the successful global effort to eliminate smallpox. Early in his career, he traveled to Nigeria, where he worked to inoculate local populations against the disease. When faced with a critical vaccine shortage, Foege and his colleagues made the difficult decision to vaccinate only those they determined to be at greatest risk of infection -- people in close contact with known victims. Later, as director of CDC's Smallpox Eradication Program, Foege demonstrated the effectiveness of this "ring vaccination" approach, which made it possible to vanquish smallpox from many countries in which as little as one-half of the population had been immunized.
Shifting his focus from the global to the national, Foege was appointed director of CDC in 1977. During his six-year tenure, Foege worked to expand the agency's mission to include injury, violence, and chronic diseases in addition to infectious diseases. Under his leadership, CDC first addressed the emerging problem of HIV/AIDS, implemented a childhood vaccination initiative that resulted in unprecedented immunization levels in school-aged children, and discovered the link between aspirin and Reye's syndrome.