- The Indian American will serve as principal deputy director at the federal agency beginning in March.
Indian American Dr. Nirav D. Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) has been appointed Principal Deputy Director at the U.S. CDC. He will assume the new role of second in command, under Director Rochelle Walensky, in March.
In a statement, Shah said that while he’s sad to leave the Maine CDC, he’s proud of what they’ve accomplished. “I’m thankful for the opportunity that Governor Mills and Commissioner Lambrew provided me to serve the people of Maine,” he said. “In my new role, I will be honored to serve not just Maine, but the entire nation and carry forward the good work that we have done here. As I prepare for this next step, I thank the people of Maine for taking care of me, as I’ve always asked them to take care of each other.”
During the pandemic, Shah, who was appointed director of Maine CDC in June 2019, was catapulted into a critical role guiding Mainers through regular briefings. He became known for this calm, empathetic leadership as he oversaw restrictions on gatherings, shortages of PPE, mask mandates, and the eventual rollout of testing and vaccines. He also became known for his tendency to quote song lyrics to deliver a message, as he did describing the role of contact tracers in September of 2020.
According to Bangor Daily News, Shah provided updates on the number of coronavirus cases each day and explains to Mainers the importance of social distancing and other public health measures aimed at slowing the virus’ spread. “Flanked by a sign language interpreter, Shah usually takes questions from reporters for at least a half-hour,” the Bangor Daily News said, adding that Shah has “won over many viewers with a measured voice, detailed answers and simple but striking real-life examples.”
Previously, Shah served as the director of the Illinois Department of Health.
Earlier in his career, Shah served as the Chief Economist of the Ministry of Health of Cambodia, during his tenure as a Henry Luce Scholar. In Cambodia, he worked on a variety of public health programs aimed at reducing corruption in the healthcare system. In particular, he designed a system that reduced the number of administrative steps required to transfer funds from the central Ministry to rural hospitals, thereby reducing opportunities for corruption and graft.
Born in 1977 to Indian immigrants to the U.S., Shah grew up in Wisconsin. He attended the University of Louisville where he majored in psychology and biology, receiving a Bachelor of Science in 1999. After college, he studied economics at Oxford University and enrolled in medical school at the University of Chicago in 2000. He completed his Juris Doctor in 2007 and his Doctor of Medicine in 2008, both from the University of Chicago and was a recipient of The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans.
Shah is married to Kara Palamountain, a research professor at Northwestern University.
(Top photo, Dr. Nirav D. Shah, center, receiving the American Medical Association’s Award for Outstanding Government Service at the state level in October, 2022.)