Biden's COVID vaccine chief will get support that Trump's never did


David Kessler aims to fix the nationwide coronavirus vaccine rollout where the Trump administration fell short.

President-elect Joe Biden on Friday announced that David Kessler, a former commissioner for the Food and Drug Administration under the George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations, would be taking over the helm of the Operation Warp Speed vaccine response team.

Kessler will replace Moncef Slaoui, a former executive in the pharmaceutical industry who was appointed to the position by Donald Trump in May last year. Slaoui resigned at the request of the Biden administration but will stay on to assist the transition as a consultant.

During his tenure, Slaoui came under fire for refusing to sell a $10 million investment in his former employer GlaxoSmithKline. The company had received up to $2.1 billion from Operation Warp Speed to develop and manufacture a coronavirus vaccine.

Unlike his predecessor, who struggled to manage an array of questionable moves by Trump, Kessler will have the support of the Biden administration in his efforts.

Biden has often expressed faith in the scientists behind COVID research and vaccine efforts. He has said on a number of occasions that the country "need[s] a president who believes in science," and in a statement on Friday said that "science will always be at the forefront of my administration."

Speaking with the New York Times, Biden's White House transition co-chair, Anita Dunn, said Kessler had long been a useful source for the incoming president and "a trusted adviser" since "the beginning of the pandemic."

Kessler, she said, "has probably briefed Biden 50 or 60 times since March. 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."

By contrast, Trump has hampered his own officials overseeing the COVID-19 vaccine response, including Slaoui, for months.

In December, for instance, Trump seemingly left Slaoui in the dark about an executive order prioritizing Americans over outside nations when it came to distributing vaccines.

"Frankly, I don’t know, and frankly, I’m staying out of this. I can’t comment. I literally don’t know," Slaoui told ABC News in an interview last month.

Slaoui also fell short on the delivery of those vaccines when the time came. Given the unrealistic task presented to him, it wasn't a surprise.

Trump and his Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told the public on several occasions that as many as 20 million people could be vaccinated by the end of 2020.

Michael Pratt, a spokesman for Operation Warp Speed, issued statement in December, saying, "The rapid availability and distribution of so many doses — with 20 million first doses allocated for distribution just 18 days after the first vaccine was granted emergency use authorization — is a testament to the success of Operation Warp Speed."

Even Slaoui defended the 20 million vaccination goal in December, but acknowledged the shots were being allocated "slower than we thought it would be," according to Politico.

"We need to improve," Slaoui told CBS's "Face the Nation" in early January.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just over 11 million vaccines had been administered as of Thursday.

Adding to Slaoui's challenges while leading Operation Warp Speed was Trump's mismanagement of the vaccine rollout and his refusal to implement an appropriate national response plan, which left states struggling to get Americans inoculated amid the still raging pandemic.

"The Federal Government has distributed the vaccines to the states. Now it is up to the states to administer," Trump tweeted on Dec. 30.

As of Friday, at least 16 states had been forced to turn to National Guard troops for help with vaccine distribution, the New York Times noted.

The vaccine rollout complications are in large part what Kessler aims to come in and fix.

Biden tasked his new COVID response head with speeding up vaccine production and distribution across the nation, the Wall Street Journal reported.

A transitional official told STAT News that Kessler’s duties will have a more significant "remit" than Slaoui, honing in on manufacturing and distribution.

Kessler, for his part, is already planning to create a major COVID-19 treatment antiviral development program, transition officials told the Times.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.