David Kessler, who for the last two years has served as a top adviser to President Biden on the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccine distribution, will leave his job at the end of the month, administration officials confirmed Friday.
“Whether he was leading our effort to develop and distribute safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, or sharing his perspective during daily strategy sessions and data deliberations, Dr. Kessler’s contributions to our COVID-19 response have helped save lives,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “I am grateful for the wisdom he has shared with us and wish him the best in his future endeavors.”
Kessler co-chaired Biden’s coronavirus task force during his transition into the White House, and he worked as Food and Drug Administration commissioner from 1990-1997 under Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
Over the past two years, Kessler has served as chief science officer of the COVID-19 response and spearheaded federal efforts to vaccinate millions of Americans. The Biden administration came into office at a time when relatively few Americans were vaccinated and distribution of the shots was still being ramped up.
Kessler and his team oversaw Biden’s goal of getting 100 million shots in arms his first 100 days in office, even after use of the single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine was paused.
Upon Kessler’s departure, roughly 80 percent of the U.S. population has gotten at least one dose of the vaccine.
“There has been no more valued and trusted wise advisor to the @POTUS on scientific and medical matters than Dr. Kessler. He will be GREATLY missed,” White House chief of staff Ron Klain tweeted.
But getting the public to get booster shots that are updated to guard against new strains has been more difficult as pandemic fatigue sets in three years after it began, and just 16 percent of Americans over the age of 5 have gotten their updated booster shot, according to CDC data.
Kessler leaves shortly after the retirement of Dr. Anthony Fauci, who spent decades as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and served as Biden’s top medical adviser on the pandemic.
Health officials have warned new variants could emerge at any given time with swaths of the world less vaccinated than others, and Congress has been unwilling to provide additional requested funds to address the current pandemic and prepare for the next one.
Still, the administration has repeatedly said the country is in a much better position to deal with the pandemic than it was two years ago, pointing to widely available vaccines, an increased number of drugs that can be used to manage the virus and greater immunity among the population.
“Dr. Kessler has been an incredible leader, securing the American people ready access to cutting-edge vaccines and treatments,” deputy press secretary Kevin Munoz tweeted. “His leadership has saved so many American lives and he will be dearly missed.”