When transportation became a barrier to vaccination, Mr. Zients the directors of Uber and Lyft to offer free rides, said Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, who advised the White House on racial equality issues. When lack of childcare and holiday leave became a hindrance, he persuaded nurseries to offer free childcare and companies to offer free time.
“I could call him at any time of the day or night and say, ‘This is a problem, we need to fix this,'” she said. “Jeff’s job all day was to fix this.”
Critics have said Mr Zients, who made a fortune building two consultancies and making them public, was an odd choice to carry out the pandemic response given his lack of public health experience. But his previous work has involved healthcare, both as chief executive of the Advisory Board Company, a healthcare consulting firm, and in the Obama administration, where he went to the trouble of fixing the healthcare.gov website.
During the spate of cases — and deaths — this winter, some blamed Mr. Zients for not doing enough to prevent them, especially when the highly transmissible Omicron variant caught the administration unprepared. Some of Mr Biden’s supporters — especially those on the Democratic left — openly held contempt for both Mr Zients and Mr Klain.
“We wanted this to be a scientific operation; it’s run like a management consulting firm,” Gregg Gonsalves, a long-time AIDS activist and epidemiologist at Yale University, said in an interview in January. “Ron Klain and Jeff Ziens are the wrong people to be where it ends.”
In January, The American Prospect, a liberal website, published an article titled “Fire Jeff Zients” stating that he “proved he couldn’t handle the job and Biden should fire him from his duties.”
Mr. Zients couldn’t always see around the corner. In June, he declared that the nation was entering “a summer of joy, a summer of freedom,” not long after the Delta variant ravaged India and struck Britain. As it took hold in the United States over the summer, cases and deaths skyrocketed.