- The Indian American, who took over his new role last month, announced to keep the school mask mandate in place for kids younger than 5.
Almost a month after he assumed the role of New York City’s 44th Health Commissioner, Dr. Ashwin Vasan is getting security from the NYPD. The move comes after several anti-mask protesters showed up at his home this week “to hurl death threats and other invectives at him and his family, the New York Daily News reported.
According to the report, “roughly two dozen protesters” were seen outside Vasan’s home on April 4. They “gathered to rail against a decision made by the commissioner and Mayor Adams to keep a school mask mandate in place for kids younger than 5,” the Daily News report said. An NYPD patrol car has been posted outside Vasan’s pad since then.
The report also quoted Mayor Eric Adams Adams telling reporters at an unrelated news conference on April 6 that “the anti-mask group went beyond peaceful protesting while outside Vasan’s residence.”
Both the NYPD and Patrick Gallahue, a spokesman for Vasan did not share the specifics of the security details with the Daily News. “To promote public health, we welcome public debate. But harassment of someone’s family and home is out of bounds and wholly unacceptable,” Gallahue told the paper. “This should not — and cannot — be tolerated.”
Lawmakers and public health experts have voiced solidarity with Vasan amid the unsettling pushback. Jay Varma, former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s top pandemic adviser, in a tweet thanked Mayor Adams “for keeping public health officials & their families safe from physical threats.”
Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine tweeted: “It’s come to this: NYC’s new health commissioner needs round-the-clock police protection because of death threats. The growing vilification of public health professionals is disgusting and dangerous and it MUST STOP.
Adams announced Vasan’s appointment on Dec. 22, 2021. Since then, the 41-year-old practicing physician, academic, and public servant, served as Senior Advisor for Public Health in the interim. He took over in March from Dave Chokshi.
Most recently, Vasan was president and CEO of Fountain House, a national nonprofit that aims to improve health, increase opportunity, and reduce social and economic isolation for people with serious mental illness. He is also an Assistant Professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and Vagelos College of Physicians & Surgeons.
He has previously worked at Partners In Health and at the World Health Organization to increase access to HIV/AIDS treatment. He then led the multi-country health systems implementation and research program ARCHeS, based at Columbia Mailman. He was also the founding executive director of the Health Access Equity Unit at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, where he built the first municipal health department program focused on the intersection of health, clinical systems, and social welfare of marginalized populations.
He holds a Master of Science degree in Epidemiology from Harvard, his MD from the University of Michigan, and his Ph.D. in Public Health from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.