Mainers’ confidence in Shah was reflected in electronic road signs saying “In Shah we trust”
Dr Nirav Shah, Indian American director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC), is leaving his post to become Principal Deputy Director at the US CDC starting March. Shah, 45, who played a pivotal role during Covid-19 pandemic, will be second in leadership to US CDC Director Rochelle Walensky.
“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,” he stated Jan 12.
Shah was appointed to Maine CDC in 2019 with the mission of rebuilding the agency and the State’s public health infrastructure.
“Dr Shah has been a trusted advisor to me and an extraordinary leader of the Maine CDC. But even more than that, he was a trusted advisor and a leader to the people of Maine during one of the greatest public health crises of our time,” Maine Governor Janet Mills tweeted.
“Shah spoke calmly and directly to the people of Maine, many of whom were scared and uncertain, and answered their questions with “compassion, empathy, humor, and a clarity,” she wrote.
Shah’s appointment as Principal Deputy Director comes as part of a planned, broader overhaul of that agency announced by the US CDC Director last August.
Born to Indian immigrants, Shah grew up in Wisconsin, and attended the University of Louisville where he majored in psychology and biology. He studied economics at Oxford University and enrolled in medical school at the University of Chicago in 2000.
Shah 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.
The Covid-19 pandemic catapulted Shah into a critical role guiding Mainers through regular briefings, according to Maine Public Radio. 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.
“The bottom line here is that Maine CDC contact tracers are never going to give you up. They’re never going to let you down. They’re never going to run around and desert you,” Shah was quoted as saying.
Mainers’ confidence in Shah was reflected in electronic road signs that said “In Shah we trust,” Maine Public noted. His popularity spawned Dr. Shah chocolate bars, t-shirts, and a Facebook fan page with more than 38,000 followers.
Ashish Jha, who now serves as President Biden’s Covid-19 response coordinator, last year called Shah one of the nation’s best public health experts.
Read: Indian-American doctor Nirav D Shah named second-in-command at US CDC (January 15, 2023)
“Maine’s loss is the nation’s gain,” says Mills. She credits Shah for Maine’s success confronting the Covid pandemic and says she has no doubt he saved many lives.
“He’s a once in a lifetime gift to our state,” she says. “To the family that is this community that we call Maine. He helped us keep it together during one of the toughest times in recent history.