Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, with Jeanne Lambrew, commissioner of Department of Health and Human Services, left, during the last regularly scheduled coronavirus news conference on June 30, 2021, at the Maine State House in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

U.S. Sen. Angus King plans to formally recommend that Dr. Nirav Shah, the infectious disease expert who led Maine through the COVID-19 pandemic, replace Dr. Rochelle Walensky as chief of the federal  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention after she leaves in June.

The senator intends to draft a letter to the White House and the Office of Personnel Management nominating Shah to succeed Walensky, who announced last week she was stepping down, said Matthew Felling, a spokesman for King.

The letter had not been drafted as of Tuesday, but King told NewsCenter Maine that he thinks Shah, who joined the U.S. CDC as Walensky’s deputy director in March, would be a good fit.

“He’s a star and he knows the issues,” King told the television station. “He did a fabulous job in Maine. I think he would be a great leader of the CDC and I’m making that view known to the people down the street.”

Shah was hired by Maine Gov. Janet Mills to head the state CDC in 2019. A year later, he was thrust into the spotlight as the face of the state’s response to the pandemic. Shah was near universally praised for his communication style and self-deprecating sense of humor.

President Biden ultimately will appoint a replacement for Walensky after consulting with Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra. The appointment would not require Senate confirmation.


A spokesman for the federal CDC, which is headquartered in Atlanta, did not respond to a reporter’s inquiry about who might replace Walensky or whether Shah would be interested.

Shah did not respond to a message.

Shortly after he announced he was leaving Maine for the federal post, Shah told the Press Herald that his time in Maine was “very gratifying.”

“Especially because I was at that time a relative newcomer, it was surprising at times a little bit,” he said. “Ultimately, I think it tells you a lot more about the people in Maine than anything else. The fact that you can be a brown guy with a funny name, not from Maine, and you can come here to be seen as somebody you might want to listen to for something of importance. That says something about the people of Maine.”

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