The Mills administration has tapped an epidemiologist currently overseeing public health in the Navajo Nation in Arizona to be the next director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Puthiery Va, who received her medical degree from the University of New England in 2012, will start in Maine’s top public health job on Aug. 28.

Dr. Puthiery Va will be the next director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention starting August 28, 2023. Photo courtesy of Maine Department of Health and Human Services

Va replaces Dr. Nirav Shah, who guided Maine CDC’s COVID-19 response and left in March to become principal deputy director for the U.S. CDC in Atlanta. Nancy Beardsley has been serving as interim director since Shah left.

Va, 43, led the Navajo Nation’s COVID-19 response and has an “extensive range of experience in primary clinical care, epidemiology, and public health emergency response,” the Maine Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement.

“As the last four years have shown, a strong public health system is crucial to protecting and improving the lives, health and livelihoods of Maine people. Dr. Va’s depth and breadth of experience position her well to assume the helm of the Maine CDC and strengthen our public health infrastructure,” Gov. Janet Mills said in a statement.

Jeanne Lambrew, Maine’s health and human services commissioner, said Va has a “deep keel for navigating Maine’s public health challenges.”


Under Shah’s direction, the Maine CDC took on a higher profile during the global pandemic, as health agencies around the world learned how best to combat COVID-19. Shah shepherded the agency through the early months, when there was much uncertainty about the new disease and the only tools to fight the virus were staying apart from others, wearing masks and shutting down large gatherings. Shah also was instrumental in the vaccine rollout, and Maine ended up having one of the highest percentages of people vaccinated against COVID-19 in the nation.

Shah made numerous public appearances – at one point five days per week – calmly explaining the latest news on the virus and the state’s strategy. He became a Maine celebrity, with his image on candy bars, a Facebook fan page and “In Dr. Nirav Shah We Trust” coffee mugs.

Va, who will earn $248,000 in her new role, said in a statement that she is “honored” to accept the position and “eager to contribute to the well-being of the people of Maine.”

“I look forward to further strengthening Maine’s public health infrastructure through equitable and community-based services,” Va said in a statement. Va came to the U.S. in the early 1980s with her family as Cambodian refugees. They lived in Louisiana before settling in Rochester, New York.

Va is currently director of the Division of Public Health in Chinle, Arizona, with the Indian Health Service Navajo Area Chinle Service Unit.

“Dr. Puthiery Va has exhibited exceptional leadership and tireless dedication in her vital work with the Navajo community throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” Roselyn Tso, IHS director, said in a statement. “By consistently going above and beyond to provide medical expertise, support and resources, Dr. Va has been a source of unwavering hope and healing during these challenging times. She has shown exceptional dedication in her work to improve the lives of underserved populations, making her a valuable asset in her new role at the Maine CDC.”

Before joining the IHS, Va was an epidemic intelligence service officer for the U.S. CDC, leading research examining the impact of sodium intake on health and its relation to chronic diseases. Va was part of federal teams responding to the Zika virus and a mumps outbreak in Arkansas.

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