President-elect Biden’s pandemic-response strategy took clearer shape this week with the rollout of several surprising appointments — a list that underscores that his Covid-19 response will be led far more by career government scientists and lower-level health agency deputies than has been the case during the Trump administration.
For his highest-profile health care positions, Biden tapped longtime Washington insiders, Xavier Becerra, a congressman of two decades and California’s attorney general, and Jeffrey Zients, an Obama administration economist. They are Biden’s health secretary nominee and coronavirus coordinator, respectively.
But the mechanics of the government’s response, pandemic experts told STAT, will likely fall increasingly to health agency deputies focused on pandemic response as well as longtime agency scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The strategy would represent a marked contrast from Trump-era pandemic response, where career scientists at several health agencies, especially the CDC, quickly fell out of favor with the White House and played little public role in the federal Covid-19 effort.
Biden also named three figures who will serve under Becerra and Zients but be central to his administration’s pandemic response: Rochelle Walensky, who will lead the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; past and, if confirmed, future surgeon general Vivek Murthy; and Yale professor Marcella Nunez-Smith, who will have an advisory role focused on health disparities.
Walensky, in particular, is likely to play an early and aggressive role in the pandemic response. Her position as CDC director does not require Senate confirmation, which means she can start at the agency as early as Jan. 20, when Biden takes office.
The new slate of appointments, according to interviews with Democratic congressional aides and pandemic-response experts, underscores how Biden has based his highest-profile health selections more on leadership and managerial ability than on health care expertise. And amid a devastating global pandemic, Biden may be taking the long view on health care, tapping a health secretary capable of seeing past the pandemic to address issues like Affordable Care Act protections or even high drug prices.
“There was an element of surprise that they went to a lawyer, but he’s reputed to be an extremely inspiring leader who gets people to follow him,” said Irwin Redlener, a Columbia University professor and pandemic-response expert. “Even putting aside the pandemic, the actual mechanics of running an agency of that size are daunting.”
You want to share a story with us? You want to advertise? You need publicity for a product, service, or event? Contact us on WhatsApp – +234 803 3018 881