Who is David Kessler? Joe Biden taps ex FDA chief to lead Covid vaccine program, will rename Operation Warp Speed

Incoming White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that the 'Operation Warp Speed' name will be retired, however, she did not say what the new name will be


                            Who is David Kessler? Joe Biden taps ex FDA chief to lead Covid vaccine program, will rename Operation Warp Speed
Dr David Kessler (top right) is known for his work in public health, especially on tobacco and nutrition issues (Getty Images)

President-elect Joe Biden has selected Dr David Kessler to lead the president-elect’s version of Operation Warp Speed (OWS), the program to accelerate the development of Covid-19 vaccines and treatments. A former chief of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Kessler is also co-chair of Biden’s coronavirus task force. Kessler will replace Dr Moncef Slaoui, a former drug company executive who was tapped by President Donald Trump for the job. Slaoui, who has been the chief scientific adviser to Operation Warp Speed, will, however, stay on as a consultant.

Kessler served as FDA Commissioner from 1990 to 1997. He is known for his work on public health, especially on tobacco and nutrition issues. “He was the man the tobacco industry loved to hate and for good reason. While serving as commissioner of the FDA from 1990 to 1997, Kessler led a long investigation of the tobacco companies,” states a blog. 

A former chief of the US FDA, Dr David Kessler is also co-chair of President-elect Joe Biden’s coronavirus task force. (Getty Images)

Until he began advising the Biden campaign on the Covid-19 pandemic, Kessler had not worked in government for more than 20 years, since serving as former US President Bill Clinton’s FDA commissioner. According to the FDA, Kessler announced his intention to step down as the FDA head in 1996, citing a desire to return to private life. “He officially left his position on February 28, 1997. He was subsequently named dean of Yale medical school, a post which became effective in July 1997,” states his biography. Besides Yale, he has also served as the dean of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Medical School.

Kessler will take on a major challenge at Operation Warp Speed, which has fallen dramatically short of the original aim of vaccinating 20 million Americans by the end of December. Biden has promised to administer 100 million doses within his first 100 days.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 31,161,075 doses have been Covid-19 vaccine doses have been distributed as of January 15, 2021. An estimated 12,279,180 total doses have been administered. 

Overall US Covid-19 vaccine distribution and administration (CDC)

Kessler’s appointment also comes at a critical moment, a day after Biden unveiled a nearly $2 trillion pandemic relief plan that includes $400 billion for directly combatting the virus. The “American Rescue Plan” intends to mount a national vaccination program, contain coronavirus and safely reopen schools. It involves setting up community vaccination sites nationwide, scaling up testing and tracing, eliminating supply shortage problems, investing in high-quality treatments, providing paid sick leave to contain the spread of the virus, addressing health disparities, and making the necessary investments to meet the president-elect’s goal of safely reopening a majority of K-8 schools in the first 100 days. 

“President-elect Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan is ambitious, but achievable, and will rescue the American economy and start beating the virus. Congress should act expeditiously to help working families, communities, and small businesses persevere through the pandemic,” the document emphasizes. 

The “American Rescue Plan” intends to mount a national vaccination program, contain coronavirus and safely reopen schools, among others (Getty Images)

 

Biden has called on Congress to provide the $160 billion in funding “necessary to save American lives and execute on his plan to mount a national vaccination program,” expand testing, mobilize a public health jobs program, and take other necessary steps to build capacity to fight the virus. “He is also calling on Congress to ensure our schools have everything they need to safely reopen and to provide emergency paid leave so people can stay home when needed to help contain the spread of the virus. Altogether, this would put over $400 billion toward these critical measures for addressing Covid-19,” reads the plan. 

The proposal is to invest $20 billion in a national vaccination program in partnership with states, localities, tribes, and territories. This will include launching community vaccination centers around the country and deploying mobile vaccination units to hard-to-reach areas. The Biden administration said it will take action to ensure all people in the US, regardless of their immigration status, can access the vaccine free-of-charge and without cost-sharing. 

Renaming Operation Warp Speed

Citing failures of the Trump administration approach to vaccine distribution, incoming White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that the “Operation Warp Speed” name will be retired.  She did not say what the new name will be. Psaki informed that many of the same civil servants will be involved in the response, but the structure will be changed.

“OWS is the Trump team’s name for their program. We are phasing in a new structure, which will have a different name than OWS. Many of the public servants will be essential to our response, but urgent need to address failures of the Trump team approach to vaccine distribution,” she tweeted on Friday, January 15.



 

 

Bloomberg reported that Operation Warp Speed name could be replaced by “Covid Response.” “The new leaders of the vaccination program may use “Warp Speed” to refer to the Trump administration’s push to develop vaccines, but Biden’s priority going forward -- getting shots into arms -- is simply called “Covid Response.” One official said it’s less about abandoning Trump’s brand name and more that the “Warp Speed” effort -- getting a vaccine approved -- is considered complete.”

Incoming White House press secretary Jen Psaki noted that there is urgent need to address failures of the Trump team approach to vaccine distribution (Getty Images)

Dr Bechar Choucair, who is currently the chief health officer for Kaiser Permanente, will be responsible for meeting the Biden administration’s goal of getting 100 million Americans vaccinated within its first 100 days, Psaki explained in her tweets. Psaki further said that “our comprehensive Covid response will be run out of the WH (White House).” Psaki also stated that Kessler “will focus on maximizing the current supply of vaccines and work with manufacturers to help get more vaccines online as quickly as possible.”



 

 



 

Meanwhile, Biden tweeted that his administration “will move heaven and Earth to allow more people to get vaccinated, create more places for them to get vaccinated, mobilize more medical teams to get shots in arms, and increase vaccine supply and get it out the door as soon as possible." 



 

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