By Ken Bredemeier
WASHINGTON – U.S. President-elect Joe Biden named his top health care officials on Monday, tapping former Congressman Xavier Becerra as his Health and Human Services chief to lead the country’s fight to curb the surging coronavirus pandemic and oversee millions of vaccinations against it in the coming months.
Becerra currently is attorney general for the western state of California who led the defense last month in the U.S. Supreme Court against a conservative bid to overturn the country’s Affordable Care Act, in a case yet to be decided. During his 24 years as a congressman in the House of Representatives, Becerra worked to win approval for the national health care law that has provided insurance coverage to millions of Americans.
In addition, Biden picked Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, as his chief medical adviser on COVID-19. Biden also asked Fauci to continue in his longtime role as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Fauci, 79, has served as a medical adviser to six U.S. presidents and for months has been the face of the U.S. government’s response to the pandemic.
In the months before the presidential election, President Donald Trump grew increasingly peeved at Fauci’s grim assessments of the spread of the virus and sidelined him in favor of more upbeat commentary.
Biden has said he will pay close attention to scientific findings about the virus from Fauci and other medical experts and get vaccinated as soon as Fauci says the preventative is safe.
U.S. health regulators are about to review two proposed vaccines that have proved effective in clinical tests. Millions of doses of the vaccines could be available later this month, with millions more in early 2021.
Biden named Dr. Vivek Murthy as surgeon general, a position he held from 2014 to 2017 during the administration of former President Barack Obama, when Biden was second in command.
The president-elect picked Dr. Rochelle Walensky, a top expert on virus testing, prevention and treatment in the eastern state of Massachusetts, as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She is chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
Biden chose Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, an expert on health care disparities among racial and ethnic groups in the U.S., as chair of his COVID-19 equity task force. She is an associate professor of medicine, public health and management at the Yale School of Medicine.
The president-elect picked business executive Jeffrey Zients, a former director of the National Economic Council under Obama, as a coordinator of his COVID-19 response team and a counselor to him. Biden named former White House and Pentagon senior adviser Natalie Quillian as deputy coordinator of the government’s response to the pandemic.
The Biden transition team said the health officials “will 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.”
In a statement, Biden said, “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.”
He said that after his inauguration on January 20, the government would “expand testing and masking, (and) oversee the safe, equitable and free distribution of treatments and vaccines.”
He said his administration would “rally the country and restore the belief that there is nothing beyond America’s capacity if we do it together.”