Interim FDA Commissioner Floated; HHS Secretary Resigns

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Updated: Janet Woodcock, M.D., has been named as interim FDA Commissioner.

Silver Spring, MD—Janet Woodcock, M.D., is expected to serve as interim FDA Commissioner, according to Bloomberg, and Alex Azar has resigned as Health & Human Services (HHS) Secretary.

Bloomberg reports that Dr. Woodcock is expected to take up the position of interim Commissioner after Biden’s inauguration, while being vetted by the Biden team for the permanent job. Bloomberg reports that former FDA Principal Deputy Commissioner Joshua Sharfstein is also being considered for the permanent job. Bloomberg notes that current Commissioner Stephen Hahn, M.D., is expected to step down at the end of President Trump’s term. Dr. Hahn has served as Commissioner since December 2019.

Dr. Woodcock joined FDA in 1986. Her FDA biography states that she served in FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research until she joined the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) in 1994. From 2005-2008, she held several positions in the FDA’s Commissioner’s office, including Deputy Commissioner and Chief Medical Officer, Deputy Commissioner for Operations, and Chief Operating Officer. She then became Director of CDER until May 2020, when she was made head of therapeutics for Operation Warp Speed.

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Meanwhile, HHS Secretary Alex Azar—to whom the FDA Commissioner reports—has resigned, although he intends to hold his position until January 20 to ensure a smooth transition. In his resignation letter, CNN reports, Azar characterizes his department’s reaction to COVID as quick and aggressive, writing that “While we mourn every lost life, our early, aggressive, and comprehensive efforts saved hundreds of thousands or even millions of American lives.”

CNN notes that more than 23 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID, which has killed more than 390,000 people in the United States. As of January 15, 10.6 million Americans had been vaccinated; Operation Warp Speed had promised in the past that 20 million Americans would be vaccinated by the end of December.

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