Leana Wen, Amid Some Controversy, Keynote Speaker at AMCP Nexus 2022

The former Baltimore city health commissioner’s positions on COVID-19 and other issues drawn some strong criticism. Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb is among those that have come to her defense.

Leana Wen, M.D., M.Sc., the former Baltimore city health commissioner who was angered some public health academics and advocates with her positions on the public health response to COVID-19 pandemic, is the keynote speaker tomorrow morning at the AMCP Nexus 2022 meeting in National Harbor, Maryland.

About 2,600 people have registered to the attend the conference, one of the two major meetings that the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy (AMCP) holds each year. The conference started today and ends on Friday.

Wen, as a contributing columnist to the Washington Post and on frequent poster on Twitter and other platforms, has staked out a position that might be called COVID-19 “moderate.”

For example, in August 2022 she largely endorsed updated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines that relaxed quarantining guidance for school children and others. “Instead of applying broad mitigation measures, it (the CDC ) is acknowledging the continued prevalence of covid and encouraging people to choose the precautions right for them,” Wen tweeted.

When President Biden was diagnosed with COVID-19 in July 2022, Wen wrote in the Washington Post that he should use his illness “as an opportunity to inform the public that covid-19 is a manageable disease for almost everyone, so long as they use the tools available to them.”

Those positions and others have drawn criticism, some of it scathing, from some public health professionals. Over 600 public health academics, advocates and workers have signed a petition calling on the American Public Health Association to rescind its invitation to have Wen speak at the association’s annual meeting in Boston next month. The strongly worded petition says that Wen has promoted “unscientific, unsafe, ableist, fatphobic and unethical” practices during the pandemic.

“By uplifting Dr. Wen, who believes that ‘learning loss’ is a fate worse than death and that individual risk should guide pandemic decision-making among leaders, what does this say about APHA (American Public Health Association) and the entire public health discipline?” says the petition.

The petition itself has come under criticism. Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb tweeted that Wen “has been thoughtful and rigorous throughout COVID, caring, more right than wrong” and “agree or disagree with her, thoughtful people shouldn’t try to squelch her views just because they perceive them as contrarian.”

Controversy also punctuated Wen's brief, eight-month stint as president and CEO of Planned Parenthood in 2018 and 2019 after she was Baltimore city health commissioner. According to press reports at the time, she wanted to emphasize the organization’s role as healthcare provider, a choice at odds with those who wanted to stick to its emphasis on political advocacy under the previous CEO. Wen was fired in July 2019. News reports also mentioned problems with her leadership style.

As Baltimore’s health commissioner from 2015 to 2018, Wen was praised for taking innovative approaches to the opioid epidemic, infant mortality and a number of other issues. Wen's 2013 book, “When Doctors Don’t Listen” received favorable reviews and helped put her in the limelight.

Wen is currently a research professor of health policy and management at Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

But there were no signs that Wen’s keynote tomorrow morning is going to lead to any strike at the AMCP Nexus 2022 meeting.

“Our keynote speaker for Wednesday’s opening session, Dr. Leana Wen, well-known medical expert, author, and pandemic expert, will share her insights on the nation’s public health emergency and the importance of public health,” said Susan Cantrell, CEO of AMCP, in a prepared statement.

Cantrell also said that attendance levels for the meeting were back to pre-pandemic levels, and that this year's version is “shaping up to be an exciting, high-energy event.” A total of 52 exhibitors, including Managed Healthcare Executive®, are listed in the meeting’s app.

Topics covered in the educational sessions after Wen’s keynote addressrun the gamut from prescription digital therapeutics to HIV preexposure prophylaxis to a regulatory and legislative update geared to pharmacistsand managed care. There are also many sessions that focus on specific diseases, such as Duchenne muscular dystrophy and chronic cough.

On Thursday, the meeting'sschedule includes sessions on pharmacists and transgender care, racial disparities and breast cancer, and the mid-term elections.

The meeting ends Friday morning with sessions on the FDA’s accelerated approval pathway, best practices for addressing health disparities and the pipeline of the oncology drugs under development.