Public health advocates on Friday applauded President-elect Joe Biden's selection of Dr. David Kessler—a pediatrician, attorney, author, hospital and academic administrator, and former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration—to lead the government's effort to accelerate the development and deployment of coronavirus vaccines and treatments.
"At FDA and elsewhere, David was known as the guy who got stuff done. I think when it comes to vaccines, we all want a person running it who can get stuff done."
—Dr. Ashish K. Jha
Brown University School of Public Health
The New York Times reports Kessler has been a key adviser to Biden on coronavirus policy and currently serves as co-chair of the transition team's Covid-19 task force. He will replace Dr. Moncef Slaoui, the former pharmaceutical industry executive who currently heads Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration's vaccine program.
"Dr. Kessler became a trusted adviser to the Biden campaign and to President-elect Biden at the beginning of the pandemic, and has probably briefed Biden 50 or 60 times since March," Anita Dunn, co-chair of the transition team, told the Times. "When staff gets asked, 'What do the doctors say?,' we know that David Kessler is one of the doctors that President-elect Biden expects us to have consulted."
Kessler is a close associate of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and point-man on the coronavirus pandemic. Kessler will work toward achieving Biden's objective of vaccinating 100 million people in the first 100 days of his presidency, part of an ambitious $400 billion plan to combat the pandemic.
Dr. David Kessler, who accelerated approval of H.I.V. drugs as F.D.A. chief in the 1990s, will help oversee Operation Warp Speed under Biden. https://t.co/FaMo224HZU
— NYT Health (@NYTHealth) January 15, 2021
The appointment comes at a critical time, as U.S. coronavirus infections, hospitalizations, and deaths have all reached record levels in recent weeks, with nearly 23.4 million cases and more than 390,000 deaths—roughly the population of Cleveland—reported by Johns Hopkins University's Coronavirus Resource Center on January 15.
Leaders and advocates in the field of public health welcomed the news of Kessler's selection.
"The nation and the world need someone of Dr. Kessler's caliber to deal with the remaining, colossal challenges with coronavirus vaccines: to ensure expedited deployment in the U.S., and to massively increase production to enable rapid vaccination in developing countries," said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, the consumer advocacy group founded by Ralph Nader in 1971.
"It is crucial that Operation Warp Speed leverage its investments, relationships, and authority to develop U.S. governmental manufacturing capacity and to facilitate sharing of vaccine technology and know-how with all qualified manufacturers around the world," added Weissman. "The alternative is far too horrible to tolerate."
Thrilled to see David Kessler leading Operation Warp Speed
At FDA and elsewhere, David was known as the guy who got stuff done
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I think when it comes to vaccines, we all want a person running it who can get stuff done
This is great newshttps://t.co/YBCtPQ7AYe
— Ashish K. Jha, MD, MPH (@ashishkjha) January 15, 2021
We at @CSPI are grateful that President-Elect @JoeBiden has chosen former @US_FDA commissioner @DavidAKesslerMD (and the chair of our Board) to serve as chief science officer for the government's COVID-19 response. More, from @DrPeterLurie:https://t.co/PtT6j4Ka8k
— CSPI (@CSPI) January 15, 2021
Kessler led the FDA for over six years during the George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations, helping to speed the development and approval of AIDS drugs during the second decade of the global HIV epidemic.
At the FDA, Kessler successfully took on Big Tobacco, proving with federal investigator Jack Mitchell and others that tobacco companies knew for half a century that their products were highly addictive. Their work led to the landmark $206 billion Master Settlement and passage of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. He also oversaw the FDA-directed moratorium on silicone breast implants.
Fun fact: Former FDA chief David Kessler, Biden's pick to lead Operation Warp Speed, was the guiding force behind the world's most ubiquitous piece of data visualization, the Nutrition Facts label designed by @burkeybelser https://t.co/4BOW6UYfZe pic.twitter.com/JMaKlGHLOn
— Michael Bierut (@michaelbierut) January 15, 2021
Kessler has also served as dean of the Yale School of Medicine and dean and vice-chancellor of the University of California, San Francisco Medical School, which fired him in 2007 after he blew the whistle on financial irregularities. The school later apologized and Kessler rejoined its faculty.
While studying for his medical degree at Harvard Medical School, Kessler also earned a juris doctorate at the University of Chicago Law School and later simultaneously taught at Columbia Law School and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, both in New York City.
In 2018, Kessler was named chairman of the board of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy organization focusing on "improving the food system to support healthy eating." He is the author of the 2009 New York Times bestseller The End of Overeating, among other books.