Biden taps former FDA chief Kessler to lead vaccine science

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WASHINGTON (AP) – President-elect Joe Biden has chosen a former food and drugs commissioner to lead vaccine science in his campaign to put 100 million shots in the arms of Americans in the first 100 days of his administration and contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr David Kessler, who will have the title of Scientific Director of the COVID Response, led the Food and Drug Administration in the 1990s under the chairmen of both political parties. He was one of Biden’s primary pandemic advisers and his appointment was announced by the transitional presidential office on Friday.

Kessler will work within the federal Department of Health and Human Services, taking responsibility for the scientific side of Operation Warp Speed, an effort launched under the Trump administration to rapidly develop vaccines and treatments. The campaign has already produced two highly effective vaccines, and more are underway.

Nevertheless, the country’s immunization campaign has started slowly and most vaccines delivered to states by the federal government are not used immediately.

A person advising Biden’s transition team said Kessler will take on the role currently held by Dr Moncef Slaoui, a prominent scientist and vaccine innovator who served as chief advisor to Operation Warp Speed. Several vaccine candidates under development are in final clinical trials, and a company is expected to seek emergency FDA approval for its formulation soon. The person spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Kessler will coordinate the review and approval of the vaccines, as well as the logistics of manufacturing millions of additional doses. Experts say the United States will need to vaccinate more than 250 million people to meet the goal of “herd immunity,” where there is widespread resistance to the virus allowing a return to normal life. So far, less than 12 million doses have been administered.

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