President Joe Biden needs to determine who will be the next FDA chief by the Nov. 15 deadline, an appointment that has remained relatively vacant since Trump’s administration.
Dr. Janet Woodcock, who has been the acting head of the Food and Drug Administration, must step down when the deadline is reached, as it would exceed the legal limit that an acting chief is allowed to serve.
According to CNN, the White House has yet to announce possible options or a selection timeline for nominating a potential new head. On Tuesday, Joe Biden said that “We’ll be talking about that in a little bit.”
The position remains very important, especially as new vaccines and coronavirus treatments must be approved by the agency. Despite the urgency, Biden has left the nomination of the next FDA chief go down to the wire.
“People are just flabbergasted,” Dr. John Whyte, chief medical officer of WebMD and a former FDA official, told Kaiser Health News. “We don’t even have rumors of viable candidates.”
Dr. Janet Woodcock was once considered a top contender to take over permanently, but she had recently fallen out of favor due to her tenure in the agency during the opioid crisis. CNN revealed that the administration had been vetting candidates to become the next FDA chief, only to start back at square one when none of their choices worked out.
“The role of the FDA commissioner is critically important, as you all know, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic,” White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre reassured reporters this past Tuesday. “We have strong acting leadership in place that is playing an important role in our Covid-19 response and beyond, and look forward to sharing a nominee with the required expertise and leadership for this job, so hopefully we have something soon to share.”
Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, a former high-ranking FDA official, was also reportedly vetted for the position, though no further announcements have been made. According to The New York Times, Dr. Sharfstein, 51, has written over 100 published medical journals, served during Obama’s administration for two years, and stands for “science, not politics.”
Dr. Sharfstein was considered back in February when Biden first took office and was expected to be the next FDA chief.
“Frankly, this nomination is long overdue,” said North Carolina Senator Richard Burr, who is also on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. “The FDA has played a vital role in leading our pandemic response and has largely performed that role well. But beyond the pandemic, it’s going to be incumbent on the FDA, working with Congress, to start applying the lessons we’ve learned during this crisis, so we’re better prepared for the next public health threat and the next generation of medical breakthroughs.”
During the Trump administration, many federal chair seats were left vacant with acting commissioners so that high-ranking members would be allowed to challenge their authority more easily should they disagree. Many government officials and even members of Congress have been stunned that Biden has allowed this to continue.
“The lack of an FDA commissioner now, nine months into the Biden administration, I think is something that a lot of people just do not understand,” said Dr. Leana Wen, a CNN medical analyst. “Think about what’s on the FDA’s docket right now: boosters, vaccines for younger kids, treatments, tests even that are approved by the FDA … it’s long past time for President Biden to nominate a permanent director there.”