Former FDA head Kessler tapped by Biden to lead Operation Warp Speed

operation warp speed biden picks kessler
Photo via The White House/Flickr (Public Domain Mark 1.0)

Dr. David Kessler, the former head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, has been picked by President-elect Joe Biden to lead U.S. vaccination efforts under the Operation Warp Speed banner launched in 2020 by the Trump Administration. 

As the New York Times reported in its coverage of the announcement, Kessler is a pediatrician and lawyer who led the FDA during the presidencies of George Bush and Bill Clinton. He’s also co-chair of the Biden-Harris transition team’s COVID-19 task force, and has been a key adviser to Biden on pandemic matters. 

CNN reported that the current Operation Warp Speed head, Moncef Slaoui, will stay on for another month to help ease the transition to Kessler’s leadership. Slaoui, one of the most visible spokespeople during the initial rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S., was asked to step down earlier this week by the Biden team. 

The article notes, “It’s common for a political appointee such as Slaoui to step down as part of the transition from one administration to another.” 

As Forbes noted in its coverage, “Kessler will reportedly bring an increased focus on anti-viral therapeutics to help treat those who have been infected with the disease,” having met with Biden since the start of the pandemic, and briefing him at least 50 times since March. 

The move to Kessler from Slaoui brings a shift in perspectives. Slaoui is a researcher and former drug company executive, whereas Kessler is a public health official with a long track record in government. 

As the New York Times noted, “Kessler will join Operation Warp Speed at a critical time. Although the program is widely credited with making possible the development of two highly effective coronavirus vaccines in record time, it has been much less successful at delivering the shots to the public — a complex task that it shares with numerous federal, state and local authorities.” 

Kessler also enjoys a long working relationship with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top disease expert. As the article noted, “the two worked closely to speed the development and approval of drugs that changed the course of the AIDS epidemic in the 1990s.”

The Biden transition team also announced, on the heels of the Kessler announcement Jan. 15, that the name Operation Warp Speed would be retired. NPR’s article noted an “urgent need to address the failures of the Trump team approach to vaccine distribution,” according to incoming White House press secretary Jen Psaki, with a name change helping to signal a different approach to vaccine distribution.

Sources: New York Times, CNN, Forbes, NPR

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