PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI/AP) — President Joe Biden has named Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, as the new White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator.
Biden’s current coordinator Jeff Zients and his deputy Natalie Quillian are leaving the administration next month, the White House announced Thursday.
Biden, in a statement, praised Zients and his team for “stunning” and “consequential” progress against the coronavirus pandemic.
“When Jeff took this job, less than 1% of Americans were fully vaccinated; fewer than half our schools were open; and unlike much of the developed world, America lacked any at-home COVID tests,” Biden said. “Today, almost 80% of adults are fully vaccinated; over 100 million are boosted; virtually every school is open, and hundreds of millions of at-home tests are distributed every month.”
Biden noted that the U.S. is leading the global effort to fight COVID, “delivering more free vaccines to other countries than every other nation.”
Biden’s statement announcing Jha’s appointment cited his familiarity to Americans as a fixture on cable news.
“As we enter a new moment in the pandemic — executing on my National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan and managing the ongoing risks from COVID — Dr. Jha is the perfect person for the job,” he said.
Jha will take a short-term leave from the university for the temporary special assignment that begins April 5.
“This President has spoken the truth about this virus. Has prioritized policies based on science and evidence. Americans are going back to work and school. And it is an honor to work under his leadership. One focused on the health and well-being of the American people,” Jha posted on Twitter.
In addition to his role as dean and public health scholar, Jha is a practicing physician with expertise in infectious diseases. He was appointed to lead the School of Public Health in February 2020, just weeks before COVID hit the nation.
“Throughout this pandemic, we have worked at Brown to improve public understanding and information, and inform policy at every level of government here and around the globe,” Jha said. “I am honored to accept President Biden’s invitation and do so confident that the School of Public Health will advance around critical issues including pandemic preparedness and key initiatives we have launched and are growing, to improve understanding and policy in key public health issues, and train the next generation of public health leaders.”
Over the past year, Jha has participated in Congressional hearings on the COVID-19 vaccine rollout and the global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, among others. Recently, he advised the White House on Biden’s national COVID-19 preparedness plan.
Brown University President Christina Paxson said Jha’s appointment “brings a top scholar and highly regarded Brown academic leader to White House service.”
“Ashish will bring to President Biden and our nation what he has brought — and will bring back — to Brown: an unrivaled commitment to improving public health equitably, effectively, creatively, with heart and a commitment to science,” Paxson said. “The work he has begun at the School of Public Health will continue, with the strong team he has recruited and the full support of the University. And it will advance even further with the benefit of this experience in national and global leadership.”
Jha notes that the fight against COVID is not over and we are likely to see more surges of infections and more variants.
“So let’s keep our eye on the ball. Prepare for surges and variants. Work to ensure that schools, work, and other places of gathering remain safe. Vaccinate the world,” he tweeted. “If we can do all of that, we can protect the health of the American people while also demonstrating moral leadership on the global stage.”
“This is not the job of one person or even just the government. It is the job of all of us,” he said. “And I’m excited to get started on my part.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.