Joe Biden announces his COVID-19 task force

Joe Biden’s transition team on Monday announced a new coronavirus task force.

“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, noting that the number of infections was rising in more than 40 U.S. states. “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.”

The transition COVID-19 advisory board will be led by co-chairs Dr. David Kessler, a professor of pediatrics and epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California San Francisco; Dr. Vivek Murthy, who served as the country’s 19th surgeon general from 2014 to 2017; and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, an associate professor of internal medicine, public health, and management at Yale University and associate dean for health equity research at the Yale School of Medicine.

Serving as advisers to the transition on COVID-19 are Dr. Beth Cameron, vice president for global biological policy and programs at the Nuclear Threat Initiative and former senior director for global health security and biodefense on the White House National Security Council staff, and Dr. Rebecca Katz, a professor and director of the Center for Global Health Science and Security at Georgetown University Medical Center. They will work closely with the advisory board.

• Luciana Borio, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations who specializes in biodefense, emerging infectious diseases, medical product development and complex public-health emergencies. She also served as assistant commissioner for counterterrorism policy and acting chief scientist at the Food and Drug Administration, and director of the FDA’s Office of Counterterrorism and Emerging Threats.

• Rick Bright, an American immunologist, virologist and former public health official, who was formerly director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority from 2016 to 2020 and deputy assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the Department of Health and Human Services. He also previously served as an advisor to the World Health Organization and the U.S. Department of Defense.

• Ezekiel J. Emanuel, an oncologist and vice provost for global initiatives and chair of the department of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania. From January 2009 to January 2011, he served as special advisor for health policy to the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. Since 1997, he has served as chair of the department of bioethics at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center.

• Atul Gawande, the Cyndy and John Fish distinguished professor of surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Samuel O. Thier professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School, and professor of health policy and management at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. He previously served as a senior adviser in the Department of Health and Human Services in the Clinton administration.

• Celine Gounder, a clinical assistant professor at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine who cares for patients at Bellevue Hospital Center. From 1998 to 2012, Gounder studied TB and HIV in South Africa, Lesotho, Malawi, Ethiopia and Brazil. She is a former assistant commissioner and director of the Bureau of Tuberculosis Control at the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

• Julie Morita, executive vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Morita helped lead the Chicago Department of Public Health for nearly two decades as medical director, chief medical officer and commissioner. She is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics and has served on many state, local and national health committees.

• Michael Osterholm, Regents Professor, McKnight Presidential Endowed Chair in Public Health and the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. Osterholm previously served as a science envoy for health security on behalf of the State Department. From 1975 to 1999, he worked in the Minnesota Department of Health.

• Loyce Pace, the executive director and president of Global Health Council, a nonprofit that works to improve global health.

• Robert Rodriguez, who graduated from Harvard Medical School and currently serves as a professor of emergency medicine at the UCSF School of Medicine. í

• Eric Goosby, a professor of medicine at the UCSF School of Medicine. During the Clinton administration, Goosby was the founding director of the Ryan White CARE Act, the largest federally funded HIV/AIDS program.

While the U.S. makes up approximately 4% of the world’s population, it has had approximately 20% of all COVID-19 cases. As of Monday, the U.S. had reported more than 10 million COVID-19 infections and 237,742 deaths, just ahead of India (8.5 million cases to date). To put that in context: The U.S. has a population of 328 million people versus 1.35 billion in India. The U.S. daily tally of infections topped 100,000 on Sunday, a fifth straight day of record-setting levels.

On Monday morning, Pfizer and BioNTech said their COVID-19 vaccine candidate, BNT162b2, is 90% effective in the first interim analysis of its Phase 3 study in trial participants without previous evidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection. Pfizer chief executive Dr. Albert Bourla sounded an optimistic tone in a statement: “Today is a great day for science and humanity.” Assuming the vaccine is effective and reaches the market, there will be many distribution issues to solve in the months ahead.

The companies said they are planning to submit for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to the FDA soon after the safety milestones are met, currently expected in the third week of November.

Biden, meanwhile, urged people to still take precautions. “It is also important to understand that the end of the battle against COVID-19 is still months away,” he said in a statement. “It will be many more months before there is widespread vaccination in this country.”

In addition to BioNTech SE BNTX, 14.66% and partner Pfizer PFE, 8.37%, several other companies are also working on coronavirus vaccines, including Johnson & Johnson JNJ, 3.81%, Merck & Co. MERK, -0.64%, Moderna MRNA, 8.31% ; Sanofi SAN, 17.99%, and GlaxoSmithKline GSK, 2.70%.Should a vaccine come to market, frontline workers and those at higher risk for COVID-19 are expected to be first in line.

The Infectious Diseases Society of America told MarketWatch on Saturday that Biden’s plans for combating the pandemic reflect its own key tenets. “Since the pandemic began, IDSA has called for a comprehensive and well-coordinated response rooted in the best available scientific data,” said Amanda Jezek, IDSA’s senior vice president of public policy and government relations. Jezek also said the IDSA supported Biden’s promise to update the public regularly.

The Biden transition team’s statement added: “President-elect Biden has pledged to bring leadership to the COVID pandemic, which continues to claim thousands of lives each week, by curbing the spread of the disease, providing free treatment to those in need, and elevating the voices of scientists and public health experts. The COVID-19 Advisory Board will help guide the Biden-Harris Transition in planning for the President-elect’s robust federal response.”

Members of the advisory board have served in previous administrations, the statement added. “These leading scientists and public health experts will consult with state and local officials to determine the public health and economic steps necessary to get the virus under control, to deliver immediate relief to working families, to address ongoing racial and ethnic disparities, and to reopen our schools and businesses safely and effectively,” it said.

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