David Kessler

Chief Science Officer of The White House COVID-19 Response Team

Fast Facts

Prominent Public Health Researcher


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Nearly three decades after Dr. David Kessler paired up with Dr. Anthony Fauci to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the two have reunited to tackle COVID-19. A lawyer and pediatrician by trade, Kessler helped accelerate the development and approval of AIDS drugs in the 1990s as commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, hiring more staffers to speed up the drug-approval and -rejection process. 

Today, as chief science officer on the White House COVID-19 Response Team, Kessler advises the administration’s implementation of COVID-19 vaccinations nationwide, seeking ways to ramp up the process and forge coordination between different levels of government to create a cohesive vaccine-implementation plan. 

A White House veteran, Kessler became involved with the Biden campaign in March 2020, reportedly briefing the candidate on the state of the pandemic multiple times a week. He then pivoted to a COVID-19 advisory role on the Biden-Kamala Harris transition team.

A jack-of-all-trades, Kessler touts an extensive background in public-health research and advocacy, gaining particular recognition for his battle against the tobacco industry as FDA commissioner and for his work standardizing nutrition-fact labels. 

Approach and Motivations

Excerpted from David’s Vignette profile

Outspoken and pragmatic researcher who draws on his own past health struggles and rejects the politicization of public health

  • Believes in thorough enforcement of FDA regulations and is unafraid to implement change; at FDA, hired over 100 investigators to identify violations of drug and food laws and directed the federal seizure of 2,000 cases of orange juice incorrectly labeled as “fresh” rather than from concentrate
  • Research on obesity and food science is motivated by his own weight fluctuations and a lifelong question of why he was unable to resist certain foods; draws on his knowledge of how the tobacco industry makes its products addictive to highlight how food companies engage in similar behaviors
  • Disapproves of politicizing public health, including the COVID-19 pandemic, saying that any decision considered to be political will “set back public health because it will undermine people’s confidence”; seeks to establish political coordination between various levels of government and the private sector on COVID-19 to improve the federal response, testing, and vaccine efforts

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