Biden announces key members of health team

Sandra Levy
Senior Editor
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President-elect Joe Biden announced key nominations and appointments of his health team. 

The picks include Xavier Becerra as secretary of Health and Human Services; Vivek Murthy as surgeon general; Rochelle Walensky as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Marcella Nunez-Smith as COVID-19 Equity Task Force chair. Dr. Anthony Fauci, currently chief medical adviser to the president on COVID-19, will continue in his role as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Biden said. The president-elect also named Jeff Zients his COVID-19 response coordinator and counselor for the president, assisted by Natalie Quillian, a former White House and Pentagon advisor who will serve as deputy coordinator of the COVID-19 response.

“This trusted and accomplished team of leaders will bring the highest level of integrity, scientific rigor, and crisis-management experience to one of the toughest challenges America has ever faced — getting the pandemic under control so that the American people can get back to work, back to their lives, and back to their loved ones," 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.”

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.

"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,” vice presiden-elect Kamala Harris said. “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.”

Xavier Becerra currently serves as California's attorney general, and has long made expanding access to health care a cause he has championed. A former congressman, Becerra helped pass the Affordable Care Act and led the defense of the law in oral arguments before the Supreme Court in November. If confirmed, Becerra will be the first Latino to lead the Department of Health and Human Services.

Prior to his tenure as Attorney General, Becerra served twelve terms as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, becoming a key fixture of the House Ways and Means Committee, a ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Social Security, and, ultimately, chair of the House Democratic Caucus. The son of working-class parents who was the first member of his family to graduate from college, Becerra started his career as a legal aid attorney supporting clients contending with mental health issues before becoming a deputy attorney general in the California Department of Justice and serving one term in the State Assembly. Originally from Sacramento, Becerra received his bachelor of arts degree from Stanford and his JD from Stanford Law School.

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 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.

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.

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 Yale's School of Medicine, she also 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. Nunez-Smith will advise the president-elect on a whole-government effort to reduce COVID-19 disparities in response, care, and treatment, including racial and ethnic disparities.

Anthony Fauci, the nation’s preeminent expert on infectious diseases and an adviser to six U.S. presidents, will serve as chief medical advisor 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, 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 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.

Commenting on Biden's choice of Becerra as HHS secretary, the Association for Accessible Medicines said, "AAM and its members look forward to working with Becerra to secure patient access to safe, effective and affordable generic and biosimilar medicines. The sustainability of the generic and biosimilars industry is at risk from anti-competitive practices and market access challenges, and we will work with Secretary-designate Becerra to advance policies that enhance the competitiveness of these medicines that bring outsized value to our nation by saving lives and containing costs during this public health crisis and beyond."

National Association of Chain Drug Stores president and CEO Steve Anderson said, “NACDS warmly and enthusiastically congratulates the Honorable Xavier Becerra on his selection as Secretary of Health and Human Services, and Dr. Rochelle Walensky on her selection as Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“They and the other healthcare team members who have been announced by President-elect Biden have prepared throughout their entire careers for this moment, to apply their expertise and leadership to the needs of our nation, of our communities, and of all Americans at this critical time. In the NACDS membership, Xavier Becerra and Dr. Rochelle Walensky will find dedicated, trusted and accessible professionals whose focus will remain on defeating the COVID-19 pandemic, and on meeting the daily health and wellness needs of all.”