Dr. Nirav D. Shah

Director of the Maine Center for Disease Control

Photo by Tara Rice

Dr. Nirav D. Shah, Director of the Maine Center for Disease Control

By Paul Koenig

Less than a year on the job as the director of the Maine Center for Disease Control, Dr. Nirav D. Shah found himself as the face of Maine’s response to a global pandemic. In the early stages, while some politicians in Washington, D.C., were downplaying the dangers of COVID-19, Shah was trying to establish through daily public briefings a common understanding of what was happening in Maine, including how the virus was transmitted and who was at risk. “We can’t talk about what we can do until we agree on what’s going on right now,” he says. In a pandemic that has killed nearly 1,000 Mainers and more than 4 million people across the world, Shah often must deliver bad news, but he never sugarcoats or obfuscates it. His clear-eyed delivery of information—good and bad—and calls to action are often peppered with allegory and humor to better connect with the public. “If I just get up and read a litany of numbers, they’re not going to listen to the rest of it, which is to help people stay safe,” Shah says. He faced some pushback as a result of the state’s vaccination strategy—utilizing a handful of large-scale vaccination sites around the state and an age-based eligibility schedule—but it helped make Maine one of the most vaccinated states throughout the process. “Given the state’s rural nature and the fact that our vaccination efforts started in the dead of winter, getting so many shots in arms here was a major accomplishment,” Shah says. In late June, at the end of Maine’s state of emergency and before public briefings returned with the emergence of the Delta variant, Shah reflected on his role since March 2020. “I don’t know most of you, but I feel like I do,” Shah told viewers. “The most meaningful piece of this to me is the fact that someone new to Maine, a guy from another state who has only been here for two years, could come to be viewed as someone to tune into.

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