By Jeremy Diamond, CNN
White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients will leave his job next month, President Joe Biden announced Thursday, after more than a year leading the US efforts to vaccinate Americans and manage the federal government’s response to coronavirus surges and as the US shifts to a new phase of the pandemic.
Zients will be replaced by epidemiologist Ashish Jha, the dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health.
Biden praised Zients in a statement as “a man of service and an expert manager” and touted the progress the US has made in vaccinating Americans and beating back the pandemic under Zients’ watch.
“I will miss his counsel and I’m grateful for his service,” Biden said.
The New York Times first reported the news of Zients’ departure.
Zients’ exit comes as the Biden administration is shifting to a new phase of its response to the pandemic, weeks after releasing a new strategy that seeks to move from crisis mode to emergency preparedness, aiming to manage the pandemic with fewer disruptions to daily life. His departure also comes as the White House struggles to secure billions of dollars in funding for the future of the US Covid response amid opposition from some Republican lawmakers.
Zients said at a conference earlier this week that Congress’ failure to pass supplemental Covid funding “would result in severe consequences” for efforts toward treatment, testing, vaccines and efforts to help deliver more vaccines globally and fight future variants.
Zients’ deputy Natalie Quillian will also depart the White House in April, a White House official said.
Biden said he was “excited” to name Jha to succeed Zients as the coordinator of the pandemic response, calling Jha “one of the leading public health experts in America, and a well-known figure to many Americans from his wise and calming public presence.”
“And 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,” Biden said in a statement. “I appreciate both Jeff and Dr. Jha for working closely to ensure a smooth transition, and I look forward to continued progress in the months ahead.”
Jha wrote on Twitter that he is “honored to have the opportunity” to take on this role and said that despite the progress that has been made, there is still “important work” to be done.
“We are not done. We are very likely to see more surges of infections. We may see more variants. We can’t predict everything with certainty,” Jha wrote. “As much as I wish otherwise, the pandemic is not over. 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.”
Jha is expected to assume his new role on April 5 and will take a temporary leave of absence from Brown, according to an announcement on the university’s website.
He was appointed dean of Brown’s School of Public Health in 2020, stepping into the role in the first fall of the Covid-19 pandemic after leading the Harvard Global Health Institute for six years, according to his biography on the Brown University website. He also taught global health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and medicine at Harvard Medical School.
A general internist, Jha was a practicing physician at Veterans Affairs medical centers.
He previously co-chaired an international panel that examined the global response to the 2014-15 Ebola outbreak and was critical of the World Health Organization’s slow response and delay in declaring a public health emergency to the outbreak that ravaged West Africa. But Jha has also advocated strongly for WHO, saying it plays a “critical role in providing support during health emergencies” and calling for improvements to the organization.
Jha has prior experience in a federal-level role, serving as a special assistant to the Department of Veterans Affairs secretary from 2009 to 2013.
This story has been updated with additional background and reaction.
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CNN’s Brenda Goodman and Veronica Stracqualursi contributed to this report.