Alex Azar, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), turned in his resignation to President Trump on last week in keeping with the customary resignations of political appointees prior to the inauguration of a new U.S. president.
The resignation came two days ahead of the resignation of Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) administrator Seema Verma, who submitted her resignation to Trump on January 14.
Both Verma and Azar’s resignations are effective January 20, the day of the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.
In his letter, Azar touted the accomplishments of HHS under his watch, while adding that the administration’s work in areas such as regulatory reform and prescription drug costs could be “tarnished” by unspecified “actions and rhetoric” after the election.
“The attacks on the Capitol were an assault on our democracy and on the tradition of peaceful transitions of power that the United States of America first brought to the world,” Azar wrote. “I implore you to continue to condemn unequivocally any form of violence, to demand that no one attempt to disrupt the inaugural activities in Washington or elsewhere, and to continue to support unreservedly the peaceful and orderly transition of power on January 20, 2021.”
In his resignation letter, Azar in particular highlighted the agency’s work amid the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically pointing to work on delivering COVID-19 vaccines.
“Operation Warp Speed achieved in nine months what many doubted would be possible in a year and a half or more,” he wrote. “As of [January 12], we have two safe and effective vaccines being administered to millions of Americans, with more vaccines likely to be authorized shortly.”
HHS in July 2020 signed a deal with the retail pharmacies Walgreens Boots Alliance (Nasdaq: WBA) and CVS Health (NYSE: CVS) to distribute vaccines to nursing home residents at no cost, but the rollout of vaccines under the Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program has received mixed reviews in terms of efficiency.
Multiple observers, including NPR, have posited that one of the reasons for West Virginia’s success in immunizing residents and staff in long-term care facilities was that it opted out of the partnership in favor of delivering its vaccine supplies to 250 pharmacies in the state, which then in turn sent the shots to facilities.
In the middle of December 2020, Azar floated the possibility of all nursing home residents being vaccinated by Christmas, though that estimate came with several qualifications, such as governors’ projections on how they would be able to administer the vaccine doses once they received them.
President-elect Joe Biden has nominated Xavier Becerra, the current attorney general of California, to replace Azar in his administration.