President-elect Joe Biden Nov. 9 unveiled members of his coronavirus working group tasked with developing his administration’s pandemic response — something Biden says he wants to put in motion as soon as he takes office in January.
As previously announced, former Indian American U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy will serve as co-chair, along with former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner David Kessler and Yale University public health care expert Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith.
Murthy was the U.S. surgeon general from 2014-17, and commanded the public health force that dealt with the Ebola, Zika and Flint water crisis.
Other members include Dr. Atul Gawande, professor of surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and at Harvard Medical School, who served as a senior adviser in the Department of Health and Human Services in the Clinton administration.
AP adds from Wilmington, Delaware: On Nov. 9, Biden cheered news about the promising development of a coronavirus vaccine but cautioned Americans need to be aggressive about mask wearing and social distancing as infections continue to surge around the country.
As Biden unveiled his coronavirus advisory board, Pfizer announced promising results from a vaccine trial.
The company, which developed the vaccine with the German drugmaker BioNTech, said it is on track to file an emergency use application with U.S. regulators later this month.
“Even if that is achieved, and some Americans are vaccinated later this year, it will be many more months before there is widespread vaccination in this country,” Biden said in a statement, noting that the vaccine does not change the “urgent reality” that Americans will have to rely on masking, distancing, and other mitigation in the months ahead.
While Biden greeted the news with cautious optimism, President Donald Trump took to Twitter to herald the moment with all caps exuberance: “STOCK MARKET UP BIG, VACCINE COMING SOON. REPORT 90% EFFECTIVE. SUCH GREAT NEWS!”
An interim analysis of the Pfizer vaccine, from an independent data monitoring board, looked at 94 infections recorded so far in a study that has enrolled nearly 44,000 people in the U.S. and five other countries.
Pfizer says an early peek at its vaccine data suggests the shots may be 90% effective at preventing COVID-19, indicating the company is on track later this month to file an emergency use application with U.S. regulators.
Trump throughout his campaign said that the nation — even as the infection rate has surged to record highs — was rounding the corner on the coronavirus and that a vaccine was imminent.
After declaring victory Nov. 7, Biden quickly pivoted from a bitter campaign battle to reining in the pandemic that has hit the world’s most powerful nation harder than any other.
Public health officials warn that the nation is entering the worst stretch yet for COVID-19 as winter sets in and the holiday season approaches, increasing the risk of rapid transmission as Americans travel, shop and celebrate with loved ones.
The U.S. is now averaging more than 100,000 new coronavirus infections a day, frequently breaking records for daily cases. Hospitals in several states are running out of space and staff, and the death toll is soaring. So far, the U.S. has recorded more than 9.8 million infections and more than 237,000 deaths from COVID-19.
Biden pledged during the campaign to make testing free and widely available; to hire thousands of health workers to help implement contact-tracing programs; and to instruct the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide clear, expert-informed guidelines, among other proposals.
He also made Trump’s mishandling of the pandemic a central focus of his campaign. But much of what Biden has proposed will take congressional action, and he’s certain to face challenges in a closely divided House and Senate.
Establishing some consensus with state leaders on a national response, including a nationwide mask mandate, should be a top priority, she said. Opposition to wearing masks remains a stubborn issue, particularly in some of the hardest-hit states.
During his first remarks as president-elect, Biden said Nov. 8 that his COVID-19 task force will create a plan “built on bedrock science” and “constructed out of compassion, empathy and concern.”
There’s also hope in the wider medical community that a Biden presidency will help restore U.S. leadership on global public health challenges, including the development and distribution of a vaccine when it becomes available.
Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, the chief scientist of the World Health Organization, said she was more optimistic that a Biden administration would join Covax, a WHO-led project aimed to help deploy vaccines to the neediest people worldwide, whether they live in rich or poor countries.
“Everyone recognizes that for a pandemic, you cannot have a country-by-country approach. You need a global approach,” Swaminathan said.
IANS adds: For Murthy, his return to the White House will be especially sweet. He was asked to resign by Trump in the spring of 2017, although he was named to a four-year term by former President Barack Obama, starting 2014.
Murthy served as the 19th Surgeon General from December 15, 2014 to April 21, 2017. He is the author of the New York Times best seller "Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World.”
Biden and Harris have already released their seven-point Covid response plan, which reads mostly like a repair-job after nine months of Trump's blow-it-all-up chaos.
First: Fix Trump's testing-and-tracing fiasco to ensure all Americans have access to regular, reliable, and free testing.
Second: Fix personal protective equipment problems for good.
Third: Provide clear, consistent, evidence-based national guidance for how communities should navigate the pandemic and the resources for schools, small businesses, and families to make it through.
Fourth: Plan for the effective, equitable distribution of treatments and vaccines because discovering isn't enough if they get distributed like Trump's testing and PPE fiascos.
Fifth: Protect older Americans and others at high risk.
Sixth: "Rebuild and expand the defenses that Trump has dismantled to predict, prevent, and mitigate pandemic threats, including those coming from China.
Seventh: Implement mask mandates nationwide by working with governors and mayors and by asking the American people to do what they do best: step up in a time of crisis.
Reporting from Bengaluru, IANS adds: The election of Joe Biden as the U.S. president-elect has delighted the folks of Hallagere, a nondescript village in Karnataka's Mandya district, as his key Covid-19 adviser Vivek Murthy's family hails from here, an official said Nov. 8.
"Vivek Murthy's family, including his father H.N. Lakshminarasimha Murthy and mother Myetraie, belong to Hallagere. Vivek’s parents migrated to Britain and subsequently to the US, where his father is also a medical doctor at Miami in Florida state," a Mandya district official told IANS on the phone.
"The Murthys donated computers to state-run schools at Hallagere and conducted health camps during their visits to the village through the family's Society of Children of Planet Earth Foundation.”
Mandya is about 100 kms southwest of Bengaluru on the way to Mysuru in the southern state.
With the rank of Vice Admiral, Murthy was the highest ranking Indian American official in Obama's second term and played an active role in formulating and implementing the Obamacare Affordable Care Act.
During Biden's presidential campaign period, Murthy emerged as one of his top advisors on public health and coronavirus issues.
In May, he was appointed as co-chair of the Healthcare Task Force along with Indian American Pramila Jayapal, who also reelected Nov. 4.
(With AP, IANS reports)