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David A. Kessler
Kessler in April 2009
Head of Operation Warp Speed
In office
January 20, 2021 – February 24, 2021
President Joe Biden
Preceded by Moncef Slaoui
Succeeded by Gustave F. Perna (Chief Operating Officer of COVID-19 Response for Vaccine and Therapeutics)
Co-Chair of the COVID-19 Advisory Board
In office
November 9, 2020 – January 20, 2021
President Joe Biden
Preceded by Office established
Succeeded by Office abolished
17th Commissioner of Food and Drugs
In office
November 8, 1990 – February 28, 1997
President George H. W. Bush
Bill Clinton
Preceded by Frank Young
Succeeded by Jane E. Henney
Personal details
David Aaron Kessler

(1951-05-13) May 13, 1951 (age 72)
New York City, U.S.
Education Amherst College (BA)
University of Chicago (JD)
Harvard University (MD)

David Aaron Kessler (born May 13, 1951) is an American pediatrician, attorney, author, and administrator (both academic and governmental) serving as Chief Science Officer of the White House COVID-19 Response Team since 2021. Kessler was the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from November 8, 1990, to February 28, 1997. He co-chaired the Biden-Harris transition’s COVID-19 Advisory Board from November 2020 to January 2021 and was the head of Operation Warp Speed, the U.S. government program to accelerate the development of COVID-19 vaccines and other treatments, from January to February 2021.


After graduation from Amherst College in 1973, Kessler studied medicine at Harvard University, obtaining an M.D. degree in 1979. While at Harvard, Kessler obtained a J.D. degree in 1977 from the University of Chicago Law School. While serving his residency in pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, he worked as a consultant to Republican senator Orrin Hatch from Utah, particularly on issues relating to the safety of food additives. From 1984 to 1990, Kessler simultaneously ran a 431-bed teaching hospital in New York City and taught at the Columbia Law School and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

As FDA commissioner

Although his appointment as FDA commissioner in 1990 by President George H. W. Bush won bipartisan approval, many of Kessler's actions were controversial, and he soon became more popular with Democrats than Republicans. He moved quickly to make the agency more efficient, reducing the time needed to approve or reject new drugs, including AIDS drugs, and more vigilant in protecting consumers against unsafe products and inflated label claims. It was also on his watch that FDA enacted regulations requiring standardized Nutrition Facts labels on food. In one memorable action, he had 24,000 gallons of Citrus Hill orange juice seized because, although made from concentrate, it was labeled "fresh." Kessler was reappointed to the post of FDA Commissioner during the administration of Bill Clinton.

Kessler was awarded the Public Health Hero award on April 2, 2008, by the UC Berkeley School of Public Health for his work in tobacco regulation. Kessler published a book entitled A Question of Intent, which gave his view of his time at the FDA.

After the FDA

Kessler delivers a lecture at George Washington University in October 2013

Kessler left the FDA to join the Yale School of Medicine as dean from 1997 to 2003. He was awarded the Public Welfare Medal from the National Academy of Sciences in 2001. In 2003 he was recruited to a post as dean and vice-chancellor at the University of California, San Francisco Medical School. After his arrival at UCSF, Kessler uncovered multiple spreadsheets for the same closed fiscal year (a year prior to his recruitment), all showing different revenue and expense numbers, but indicating that the dean's office was in deficit and would continue to be so, in direct contravention of what had been reported to him during his recruitment, evidence of, at best, inadequate financial controls. J. Michael Bishop, Chancellor of UCSF, stated UC audits found no evidence of financial irregularities and, in June 2007, Bishop demanded Kessler's resignation. On December 13, 2007, Kessler was formally dismissed. Bishop then acknowledged that the financial data presented to Kessler during his recruitment might have been misleading. Kessler alleged he was fired for whistleblowing. Subsequent to Kessler's firing, after UCSF was pressured by KPMG to release one of the audits, it was revealed that Kessler had been correct.

His 2009 book entitled The End of Overeating (a New York Times best seller), highlights for the consumer the amount of fat, salt, and sugar in their food intake. He asserts that this trio of elements in restaurant and processed foods conditions us to eat more, in a manner that changes our brain circuitry, and that children may develop a pattern of overeating and obesity that they might retain for life. He stresses that this outcome of lifelong obesity is not genetic, but environmental and avoidable.

On November 9, 2020, Kessler was announced as one of the three co-chairs of president-elect Joe Biden's COVID-19 Advisory Board, alongside former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and Yale public health professor Marcella Nunez-Smith. Days later, Kessler was named a candidate for United States Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Biden Administration. Kessler also served as chief medical adviser to the Biden Inaugural Committee, which organized Biden's 2021 presidential inauguration.

On January 15, 2021, the Biden administration announced that it had chosen Kessler to lead Operation Warp Speed, the program to facilitate and accelerate the development, manufacturing, and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and other related treatment.

Selected publications

  • Kessler, David A., Fast Carbs, Slow Carbs: The Simple Truth About Food, Weight, and Disease (2020) ISBN: 9780062996978
  • Kessler, David A., Capture: Unraveling the Mystery of Mental Suffering (2016) ISBN: 9780062388513
  • Kessler, David A., Your Food Is Fooling You: How Your Brain Is Hijacked by Sugar, Fat, and Salt (2012) ISBN: 9781596438316 (A version of The End of Overeating aimed at teens)
  • Kessler, David A., The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite (2009) ISBN: 1-60529-785-2
  • Kessler, David A., A Question of Intent: A Great American Battle with a Deadly Industry (2001) ISBN: 1-891620-80-0
  • Eisdorfer, Carl, David A. Kessler, and Abby N. Spector, eds. Caring for the Elderly: Reshaping Health Policy (1989) ISBN: 978-0-8018-3810-1
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