Dr. Ashish K. Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health and an outspoken public health advocate during the pandemic, has been tapped by President Joe Biden to lead his administration’s COVID-19 response.

Dr. Jha, 51, will join the Biden administration in Washington, D.C. as the COVID-19 response coordinator, the White House announced Thursday. Jha will replace the current coordinator, Jeffrey D. Zients, and his deputy, Natalie Quillan. 

In a series of Twitter posts, Jha praised Zeints’ leadership and the progress in fighting the pandemic while stressing that “the work is not done.”

“We are very likely to see more surges of infections,” he Tweeted Thursday. “We may see more variants. We can’t predict everything with certainty. But we have to prepare to protect the American people [for] whatever Mother Nature throws at us.”

An internist who practiced in Massachusetts and the Providence V.A. Medical Center, Jha was recruited from Harvard University’s School of Public health to the post at Brown, arriving in Rhode Island in September of 2020, in the midst of the pandemic.

“Ashish will bring to President Biden and our nation what he has brought — and will bring back — to Brown: an unrivaled commitment to improving public health equitably, effectively, creatively, with heart and a commitment to science,” Brown University President Christina H. Paxson said in a statement. “The work he has begun at the School of Public Health will continue, with the strong team he has recruited and the full support of the University. And it will advance even further with the benefit of this experience in national and global leadership.”

Jha is a native of India who immigrated to Canada in 1979, and then to the U.S. in 1983. He has been an outspoken advocate for expanding international access to COVID-19 vaccines and for a comprehensive public health system in testimony last March before the U.S. Senate committee.

Jha recently  advised the White House on the President’s national COVID-19 preparedness plan.

“Dr. Jha is one of the leading public health experts in America, and  a well known figure to many Americans from his wise and calming public presence, '' President Biden said in a statement released by the White House. “And 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.” 

In a statement released by Brown, Jha said:  “President Biden and his Administration continue to provide the American people what’s needed to get beyond this pandemic and move our nation forward safely, back to work, and back to school. I am honored by the President’s invitation to lead this important work and meet the challenges ahead. To the American people, I promise I will be straightforward and clear in sharing what we know, in explaining what we don’t know and how we will learn more, and what the future will ask of all of us.”

Jha will take a short-term leave from Brown to take the “temporary special assignment,’’ which begins April 5, the university said.

The selection of Jha comes as the Biden administration has come under criticism for confusing public messaging around the virus as many restrictions and mandates are easing.

Biden’s  statement announcing Jha’s appointment highlighted his communications skills and familiarity to Americans as a fixture on cable news.

Biden also praised Zients and his team for “stunning” and “consequential” progress against the coronavirus pandemic.

“When Jeff took this job, less than 1% of Americans were fully vaccinated; fewer than half our schools were open; and unlike much of the developed world, America lacked any at-home COVID tests,” Biden said. “Today, almost 80% of adults are fully vaccinated; over 100 million are boosted; virtually every school is open; and hundreds of millions of at-home tests are distributed every month.”

Biden noted that the U.S. is leading the global effort to fight COVID, “delivering more free vaccines to other countries than every other nation.”

The State Department on Thursday announced that the U.S. has shared more than 500 million doses with the world of 1.2 billion doses promised by the end of this year.

The 90-page National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan spells out initiatives and investments to continue to drive down serious illness and deaths from the virus, while preparing for potential new variants and providing employers and schools the resources to remain open.

With reports from the Associated Press

This story has been updated.

Health reporter Lynn Arditi can be reached at larditi@thepublicsradio.org. Follow her on Twitter @LynnArditi