President Biden chose Dr. Paul Friedrichs, a military combat surgeon and retired Air Force major general who helped lead the response to Covid-19 at the Pentagon, to lead a new office in the White House created by Congress to prepare for and manage future biological threats.
The White House said it will announce the appointment on Friday and it will take effect on August 7. Dr. It was up to Friedrichs to set up a new office, the Office of Pandemic Preparedness and Response Policy, although the administration christened it with a shorter Washington acronym: OPPR
The appointment comes after a long search for a director that ended where it began — at the White House, where Dr. Friedrichs on the National Security Council staff as senior director for global health security and biodefense. Prior to that, he served as a Joint Staff surgeon at the Pentagon, providing medical advice to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. His planned choice was reported last week via The Washington Post.
Why It Matters: Future health threats are emerging.
The coronavirus pandemic has often been described as the worst public health crisis in a century. But experts agree that given current migration patterns and the way humans intersect with animal life, it won’t be a century — and it may not even be a decade — before the next pandemic arrives.
The era of the Covid “czars” is over. Mr. Biden’s first White House coronavirus response coordinator, Jeffrey D. Zients, is now the White House chief of staff. The second coordinator, Dr. Ashish K. Jha, has returned to his position as dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. Mr. Zients praised Dr. Friedrichs for his work on the pandemic, saying he “leads the charge to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Covid-19 has made it clear that a biological threat to health does not respect borders — including the borders that divide federal agencies. The appointment of Dr. Friedrichs signaled a more permanent and coordinated effort to prepare for and respond to pandemics — one that would extend beyond the Biden administration and be centralized within the White House.
Background: Dr. Friedrichs served decades in the Air Force.
In a speech in February, reflected Dr. Friedrichs on his 37-year Air Force career and shared a little about himself. His father served in the Navy at the end of World War II, and his mother was a Hungarian freedom fighter whose parents were killed by the Russians. Her husband was an Army doctor when they met.
He also reflected on the military’s role in the fight against Covid-19, an effort that includes helping develop and distribute vaccines and providing medical support to struggling hospitals. “The military health system has been a pinch-hitter to step in to help our civilian partners as we collectively struggle to deal with that pandemic,” he said.
what next: Work will focus on preparation.
The new position of Dr. Friedrich gives him the authority to oversee domestic biosecurity preparations. He will have to work on developing next-generation vaccines, ensure adequate supplies in the Strategic National Stockpile and strengthen surveillance to track new biological threats. He will also need to work with Congress to secure funding for preparedness efforts.