Dr. Jha talks BA.2 variant — and his new White House gig

"I am deeply honored for this chance to serve this country I love."

Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University's School of Public Health, stands for a portrait, Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020, in Newton, Massachusetts. Elise Amendola/AP Photo

Dr. Ashish Jha had “some news” to share this week — President Joe Biden asked him to serve as the administration’s next COVID-19 response coordinator starting next month.

The move, announced Thursday, signals the administration’s view that we are moving into a new phase in the pandemic — one more focused on nudging Americans back toward normalcy. 

“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.


Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, said on Twitter he is “honored to have the opportunity.”

“On a personal note, for a poor immigrant kid who left India not speaking a word of English. And found in America a nation willing to embrace me as one of her own. I am deeply honored for this chance to serve this country I love,” Jha wrote Thursday. 

In an interview on the “Today” show Friday morning, Jha warned that the pandemic is not behind us yet, but said he is ready to work on implementing Biden’s plan

“The first order of business is the president has laid out a really comprehensive plan for how we prepare and it’s about executing on that plan,” Jha said. “It’s about making sure we have enough tests and vaccines and therapeutics and masks. It’s about vaccinating the world so that we can get this pandemic finally behind us. … That’s what I am going to be focused on when I join the administration.”

Jha also touched on the BA.2 variant that is on the rise in much of Europe saying he is “not expecting a big surge here,” but we need to pay close attention and make decisions based on data. 


“Here’s what we know about BA.2. We know it’s a little bit more transmissible than BA.1, that subvariant of omicron that swept through America in January,” Jha said. “Our vaccines, especially if you’re boosted, provide the same level of protection. It’s not any more severe than BA.1.”

Data driven decisions are a theme with Jha — on the “Today” show he also said any decisions about another round of boosters should come based on complete data. 

“What we know right now is getting those first two shots plus that booster, that third shot, that’s the most critical thing,” he said. “That’s how we protect lives. That’s how we keep people out of the hospital. That part is very, very clear. The data on the fourth shot, I’ve got to still examine it. We all have to look at it more carefully. … We want to see the full set of data and then make a decision after that.”

Jha said he is “excited to get started” on his part of “demonstrating moral leadership on the global stage.”

Other doctors are also excited to see Jha step into his new role. His colleague at Brown, Dr. Megan Ranney, the associate dean of the Brown School of Public Health, said she is “thrilled and proud.”

Dr. Michael Mina, a former assistant professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health and now chief science officer at biotech software company eMed, called Jha a “terrific choice” for the job. 

Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s Dr. Jeremy Faust said Jha has been one of his “go-to people” during the pandemic. 

Read Jha’s full Twitter thread here:


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