Acting quickly to show leadership as COVID continues its relentless march, President-elect Joe Biden turned to former FDA commissioner David Kessler to co-chair a 13-member pandemic task force. Kessler earned his reputation as David after Goliath when he took on Big Tobacco in the 1990s and turned the FDA into such an aggressive public health watchdog that critics derided him as a “nanny of the world.” ‘state food’ for defending standardized nutrition labels on foods.
He is now emerging as a senior health official at a time of widespread public skepticism about the pandemic and strong resistance to government efforts to enforce social distancing and mask wear. Containing the virus is Biden’s top priority, but in areas with the highest number of new cases per capita, the overwhelming majority of people voted for President Trump, presumably accepting his rhetoric about having ‘turned the corner ‘on the virus.
With doubts over the constitutionality of a national mask mandate, persuasion will be key to the task force’s success even before Biden officially takes the reins of government. Kessler, now 69, has spent the decades since leaving the FDA in 1997 in important health policy roles, including at the Yale School of Medicine, and has received numerous awards and applause for his work on tobacco regulation and his zeal for the protection of public health. .
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