President-elect Biden reveals key members of health team

MSR News Online/ (l-r) Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, Dr. Vivek Murthy; Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Xavier Becerra, Natalie Quillian, Jeff Zients

Amid the backdrop of mounting COVID-19 cases in the U.S. and dire warnings from health professionals of a “dark winter” ahead, the incoming Biden-Harris administration has revealed the medical experts tasked with tackling the pandemic when they step into power.

On Monday, the transition team unveiled appointees to help contain the virus, as well as “ensure the safe, free, and equitable distribution of vaccines; make sure every American has access to affordable, quality health care; and guard against the full range of health threats facing our nation,” according to the transition website.

President-elect Joe Biden said, “This team of world-class medical experts and public servants will be ready on day one to mobilize every resource of the federal government to expand testing and masking, oversee the safe, equitable, and free distribution of treatments and vaccines, re-open schools and businesses safely, lower prescription drug and other health costs and expand affordable health care to all Americans, and rally the country and restore the belief that there is nothing beyond America’s capacity if we do it together.”

Top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci—who has had a strained relationship with the current president—has been asked to stay on as chief medical adviser to President-elect Biden. Also of note, Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, co-chair of the incoming administration’s COVID-19 Task Force, has signed on to guide the administration in reducing COVID-19 racial and ethnic disparities in response, care, and treatment.

In a Tweet, Nunez-Smith noted: “As we come back from this crisis, we need to bring everybody along. It’s been my life’s work to combat systemic inequities in our health care system, and as COVID-19 Equity Task Force Chair, I’ll champion the changes we need for equitable recovery in our hardest-hit communities.

Rounding out the team are Xavier Becerra, Secretary of Health and Human Services; Dr. Vivek Murthy will return to serve as Surgeon General, with expanded duties; Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); and Jeff Zients, Coordinator of the COVID-19 Response and Counselor to the president. In addition, former White House and Pentagon senior advisor Natalie Quillian will serve as Deputy Coordinator of the COVID-19 Response.

The team has been touted for its experience in public health, government, and crisis management. Together, they will advise President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on implementing a whole-of-government response to surge testing and tracing to slow the spread of the virus, protect frontline workers, and ensure the safe and efficient delivery of treatments and vaccines at no cost to the American people.

They will also help fulfill the President-elect’s vision of making health care a right—not a privilege—for all Americans, building on the Affordable Care Act to lower health care costs and tackle prescription drug costs.

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris said, “Containing this coronavirus pandemic and opening our economy responsibly require listening to experts and leaders like the ones we are bringing together on this health care team.

“This is the team that the American people need and deserve to make quality, affordable health care available to all and to help make sure safe and effective vaccines—as well as testing and treatment—are free and equitably distributed. President-elect Biden and I will work closely with this team to marshal the full resources and capabilities of the United States of America to save lives, contain this pandemic, and build better preparedness for future pandemics and other health threats.”

This diverse and experienced slate of nominations and appointments includes some of the nation’s most accomplished problem-solving leaders in crisis management and public health:

Xavier Becerra, the Attorney General of California and a long-time champion of expanding access to health care, is nominated to serve as Secretary of Health and Human Services. A former member of Congress who helped drive passage of the Affordable Care Act, Becerra led the defense of the law in the Supreme Court last month. If confirmed, Becerra will be the first Latino to lead the Department of Health and Human Services.

Dr. Vivek Murthy, a distinguished physician, research scientist, and former Vice Admiral in the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, is nominated to serve as Surgeon General of the United States. He was previously confirmed by the Senate to serve in the same capacity, holding the post as ‘America’s Doctor’ between 2014 and 2017. A trusted national voice on health issues and a long-time advisor to President-elect Biden, he currently serves as co-chair of the President-elect’s COVID-19 transition Advisory Board.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, a leading expert on virus testing, prevention, and treatment, is appointed to serve as Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She has been on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic response in Massachusetts, serving as Chief of Infectious Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital and a Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, one of the country’s foremost experts on health care disparities, will serve as the COVID-19 Equity Task Force Chair. An Associate Professor of Medicine, Public Health, and Management at the Yale School of Medicine, she is the founding director of Yale’s Equity Research and Innovation Center and co-chair of the President-elect’s COVID-19 Transition Advisory Board. Dr. Nunez-Smith will advise the President-elect on a whole-of-government effort to reduce COVID-19 disparities in response, care, and treatment, including racial and ethnic disparities.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s preeminent expert on infectious diseases and an adviser to six U.S. presidents, will serve as Chief Medical Adviser on COVID-19 to the President and continue in his role as Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Among the most trusted figures in the country throughout the pandemic and for decades prior, Dr. Fauci will remain an essential voice both in informing the public about health risks and safety measures and in helping the scientific community, the Biden-Harris administration, and local officials overcome the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jeff Zients, an accomplished public servant widely known for his extraordinary track record successfully managing large and complex initiatives, will serve as Coordinator of the COVID-19 Response and Counselor to the President. Zients previously earned broad acclaim for his leadership of the 2013 HealthCare.gov tech surge and his oversight of the ‘Cash for Clunkers’ fuel-efficiency program. Zients will advise the president-elect on the implementation of the federal government’s COVID response, including managing safe and equitable vaccine distribution, the pandemic supply chain, and coordination across federal agencies and state and local governments.

Natalie Quillian will serve as Deputy Coordinator of the COVID-19 Response. Quillian, a national security expert and former White House and Pentagon senior advisor, played an instrumental role in coordinating the Obama-Biden administration’s interagency response to the opioid epidemic.

—Information provided by the Biden-Harris Transition team. For more on the Biden-Harris transition, visit buildbackbetter.gov.