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WASHINGTON — President-elect Biden’s transition team unveiled the members of his Covid-19 task force on Monday, a who’s-who of former government health officials, academics, and major figures in medicine.

The list includes Rick Bright, the former head of the vaccine-development agency BARDA ousted by the Trump administration in April; Atul Gawande, the surgeon, writer, and recently departed CEO of Haven, the joint JP Morgan Chase-Berkshire Hathaway-Amazon health care venture; and Luciana Borio, a former Food and Drug Administration official and biodefense specialist. 

Biden has cast the escalating Covid-19 crisis as a priority for his incoming administration. The task force, he said, would quickly consult with state and local health officials on how to best prevent coronavirus spread, reopen schools and businesses, and address the racial disparities that have left communities of color harder hit than others by the pandemic. 

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“Dealing with the coronavirus pandemic is one of the most important battles our administration will face, and I will be informed by science and by experts,” Biden said in a statement Monday. “The advisory board will help shape my approach to managing the surge in reported infections; ensuring vaccines are safe, effective, and distributed efficiently, equitably, and free; and protecting at-risk populations.”

As expected, the board’s three co-chairs are Marcella Nunez-Smith, a Yale physician and researcher; Vivek Murthy, a former U.S. surgeon general; and David Kessler, a former FDA commissioner. 

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Other appointees include well-known public health officials such as Julie Morita, a former Chicago health commissioner, and Eric Goosby, the founding director of the federal government’s Ryan White HIV/AIDS program.

The task force also includes a variety of other well-known doctors and academics, among them Zeke Emanuel, a former Obama administration health care adviser, and Celine Gounder, a physician and medical journalist with years of experience combating HIV and tuberculosis outbreaks. 

Separately, the Biden transition announced that it had appointed two health advisers who will guide the incoming administration’s Covid-19 preparations but will not serve on the task force. One of those advisers, Beth Cameron, is the former director of a White House biodefense council that Trump has been criticized for closing in 2017. The other, Rebecca Katz, is a well-known Georgetown global health security professor. 

Despite the task force’s breadth, it does not include several figures still seen as likely to play major roles in the Biden administration’s Covid-19 effort, including Joshua Sharfstein, the former deputy FDA commissioner, and Nicole Lurie, the Obama administration’s assistant health secretary for preparedness and response.

Below is the full list of task force members:

David Kessler, co-chair, former FDA commissioner

Marcella Nunez-Smith, co-chair, Yale associate dean for health equity research 

Vivek Murthy, co-chair, former surgeon general 

Luciana Borio, former assistant FDA commissioner 

Rick Bright, former BARDA director 

Zeke Emanuel, former Obama administration health policy adviser

Atul Gawande, Brigham and Women’s hospital professor of surgery 

Celine Gounder, NYU Grossman School of Medicine assistant professor

Dr. Julie Morita, former Chicago public health commissioner 

Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota

Loyce Pace, executive director of the Global Health Council

Dr. Robert Rodriguez, UCSF emergency medicine professor 

Eric Goosby, former Ryan White Care Act director

  • Having spent 25 years in the medical practice and medical research field, I want to add that these men and women are a collegial and competitive bunch. While sound bytes and contextual messaging sets up what appears to be a gigantic disagreement, the truth is these folks are all on the same page. A worthy result is discovered, the next guy is already using that as his basis for the next step up, meanwhile, the first guy has completed his experimental phase and is writing the results in manuscript for a medical journal like New England Journal of Medicine. They get together at eachothers labs, fly across country and stay at each other’s homes, drink herbal tea, debate and toss around theories. They have a great deal of respect for eachother and the march onward is their true goal. Of course, they all want to be the man or woman who discovers the genetic code of something significant as that is the top prize in medical research.
    The picture being painted across all fields has been of disgruntled people and infighting. These are professional professionals. Intellectual. Really, the cream of the crop.
    There is one person who has done everything he could to create a hostile environment. That type of person wouldn’t last a half day in the places I’ve worked. He couldn’t begin to fit in with these pros. It is most likely why he holds such disdain and resentment towards anything that challenges him or his ego and he acts out, rather than problem solve in an exchange of intelligent ideas and note taking.
    Thanks everyone. This has been helpful to me in defining a few things. Maybe, I hope, for someone else, too. Whether or not defining things helps at all, I guess I’ll wait and see. I think I’ve done similar “sorting” things out a few times in these past few years.

  • Very nice article. I was looking for something that I could reference that wasn’t partisan but covered the who’s who of Biden’s COVID task force. This is perfect, thank you.

  • Zee Emanuel stated that 75 years old is the threshold beyond which no treatment for pandemic level illnesses should be offered. Great addition to the “team” Herr Biden.

  • I’m concerned about finding trolls and ‘alternative facts’ on this thread. This isn’t a social media site. We should applaud a leader who isn’t anti science and is concerned about the pandemic. Public health is why we no longer have a 20% childhood mortality rate. An evidence based tool of public health is messaging. Consistent messaging throughout the pandemic will help reduce deaths in the elderly. A laissez faire strategy will lead to an acceleration of illness this winter. It’s not what we want to be true that’s important, it’s doing the next right thing.

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