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Here's What President-Elect Joe Biden's COVID-19 Advisory Board Will Look Like

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Key Takeaways

  • President-elect Joe Biden announced a 13-member COVID task force full of prominent doctors, scientists, and public health experts.
  • The newly announced advisory board will be tasked with combating COVID-19 and stopping the spread of the virus, which could include a nationwide mask mandate.
  • The Biden-Harris plan also includes steps to invest $25 billion for vaccine deployment and distribution that will guarantee it gets to “every American, cost-free.”

President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris have announced a group of public health experts and scientists that will make up their COVID-19 advisory board.

The board will be led by former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner David Kessler, MD, and Yale University public health care expert Marcella Nunez-Smith, MD, MHS.

Other members of the 13-person board include:

  • Julie Morita, MD, an Executive Vice President of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and former Chicago health commissioner.
  • Eric Goosby, MD, a professor of Medicine at the UCSF School of Medicine, and the founding director of the federal government’s HIV/AIDS program, the Ryan White CARE Act.
  • Ezekiel J. Emanuel, MD, PhD, an oncologist and chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania, who also served as a health care adviser in the Obama administration from 2009-2011.
  • Rick Bright, PhD, an immunologist, virologist, and former public health official who resigned amid allegations his early warnings over the pandemic were ignored.
  • Robert Rodriguez, MD, a professor of emergency medicine at the UCSF School of Medicine and a practicing emergency department and intensive care unit physician.
  • Loyce Pace, MPH, the Executive Director and President of Global Health Council, and previously held leadership roles at the LIVESTRONG Foundation and the American Cancer Society.
  • Michael Osterholm, PhD, MPH, a Regents professor and the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota. 
  • Atul Gawande, MD, MPH, the Cyndy and John Fish Distinguished Professor of Surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Professor of Health Policy and Management at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
  • Celine Gounder, MD, ScM, FIDSA, a clinical assistant professor at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine who has years of experience studying and combating HIV and tuberculosis (TB) outbreaks.

The distinguished group of academics and doctors have an extremely important job: leading the way in fighting and containing the spread of COVID-19.

“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,” President-elect Joe Biden said in a statement on his transition website.

The pledge from our country’s incoming leader comes at a tumultuous time as the nation surpassed 10 million coronavirus cases, according to data by Johns Hopkins University.

These numbers could be the latest sign of another possible wave of coronavirus as winter months near and people are forced inside.

In remarks after meeting with his newly-formed task force, Biden warned that there’s a need for “bold action to fight this pandemic” as we still face “a very dark winter.”

“We’ve never really quieted things down because we never really hampered down and adhered to public health measures, and part of that is because we never really had a national plan. We had 50 states doing 50 different things,” Krutika Kuppalli MD, assistant professor in the division of infectious diseases at the Medical University of South Carolina, tells Verywell.

What This Means For You

When Joe Biden replaces President Donald Trump on January 20, he vows to make combatting the coronavirus pandemic his number one priority. To get a head start, he organized a COVID-task force full of prominent doctors and scientists with varying backgrounds and expertise to put a plan together to stop the spread of the virus. That plan will include a push for a nationwide mask mandate, and a fair and free vaccine deployment schedule when one of the promising vaccines (perhaps the Pfizer vaccine) gets final approval from the FDA. 

Mask Mandates for All

Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia already mandate face-coverings in public, according to the AARP. But on the new Biden-Harris transition website, implementing mask mandates is listed as a part of their seven-point plan to beat COVID-19. It specifically states that he will call on “every governor to make that mandatory in their state,” and have every American wear a mask “when they are around people outside their household.”

Kuppalli says even though she believes it’s important for Biden to work with governors and local governments in the 17 states that don’t currently mandate mask wearing, it will all come down to how people adhere to new rules like this.

Krutika Kuppalli MD

It comes down to getting people to really understand that we’re all in this together and understand that we all need to do our part.

— Krutika Kuppalli MD

“You can have a mask mandate but it’s just a law, it’s getting people to see and get on board with something like that,” Kuppalli says. “I think it comes down to getting people to really understand that we’re all in this together and understand that we all need to do our part.”

While it’s unclear exactly how well a national mask mandate would work, some experts believe that while we wait for a nationwide vaccination program, taking basic safety precautions is still the best method to stop the spread of the virus. 

“The only reason cases are going up is because people have not been paying attention to the behaviors they are supposed to—which is masking, social distancing, and hand hygiene, David Battinelli, MD, the Chief Operating Officer at Northwell’s Health Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research, tells Verywell. “It’s very clear that regardless of what anyone who isn’t a scientist wants to believe, it’s the only way that we currently have to limit the spread of the virus.”

Vaccine Distribution Plans

On Monday, news broke that Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine was 90% effective in preliminary Phase 3 clinical trial results. In the clinical trial, half of the participants received the vaccine, while the other half got a placebo. Out of about 44,000 participants, 94 got sick with COVID-19—which suggests the vaccine is just over 90% effective. In the eyes of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), this is a good result, as the agency requires a 50% efficacy for vaccines to be pushed forward for emergency authorization. 

Other vaccines have seen some adverse events during Phase 3 clinical trials. Kuppalli says this is the furthest along we’ve seen data so far. But what would a nationwide rollout of a vaccine actually look like if Pfizer vaccine candidate—or one of the roughly 47 other vaccine candidates—came to fruition? 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will make its decision on how COVID-19 vaccines will be distributed in the U.S. based on input from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP)—a federal committee that gives guidance on how to control vaccine-preventable diseases in the country.

Some experts say an allocation plan may draw on recommendations made in the final report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, which proposed a four-phased plan, breaking down the most vulnerable populations to ensure they receive the vaccine when and if demand exceeds supply. 

According to Biden’s seven-point plan to beat COVID-19, he wants to invest $25 billion for vaccine development and distribution, that will guarantee that “it gets to every American, cost-free.”

“We’re going to have to scale it up and prioritize certain populations—first priority populations are going to be healthcare workers and vulnerable populations—and then look at other populations from there,” Kuppalli says.

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  1. Johns Hopkins. COVID-19 United States Case by County. November 9, 2020.

  2. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: FDA Takes Action to Help Facilitate Timely Development of Safe, Effective COVID-19 Vaccines. June 30, 2020.