Attorney general Xavier Becerra standing at microphone speaking and gesturing with hand

Biden’s top health officials will be responsible for navigating the nation through the coronavirus pandemic, which has already killed more than 282,000 Americans and devastated the economy. 

President-elect Joe Biden officially announced his healthcare team on Monday, appointing several officials to critical roles tasked with strengthening America’s healthcare system and overseeing the nation’s pandemic response.

Biden nominated California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to lead the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). He also selected former surgeon general Dr. Vivek Murthy to reprise his former role and Dr. Rochelle Walensky, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, as the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Becerra and Murthy will each need to be confirmed by the Senate, while Walensky will not require confirmation. 

The officials will be responsible for navigating the nation through the second year of the coronavirus pandemic, which has already killed more than 282,000 Americans and devastated the economy. By the time Biden’s team assumes their roles, the crisis is likely to be far worse. The United States has recorded more than 2,300 deaths and nearly 200,000 cases per day in December, setting new records almost daily. Hospitalizations are also at an all-time high, with more than 101,000 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

That reality underscores the importance of Biden’s choices, and the former vice president expressed confidence in his new team. 

“This trusted and accomplished team of leaders will bring the highest level of integrity, scientific rigor, and crisis-management experience to one of the toughest challenges America has ever faced—getting the pandemic under control so that the American people can get back to work, back to their lives, and back to their loved ones,” Biden said in a statement

Becerra, a former congressman, has no traditional medical or public health background. Still, the former Democratic congressman has been a vocal advocate for expanding healthcare access and removing obstacles for women seeking medical services and reproductive health care. Becerra has also been defending the Affordable Care Act in court against a Republican-led lawsuit seeking to repeal the landmark healthcare law and take away healthcare from more than 20 million Americans. 

If confirmed, Becerra would be the first Latino to run HHS, one of the government’s largest agencies, which also oversees the CDC and U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. In his role, Becerra would oversee the agency’s distribution of a coronavirus vaccine. 

Murthy, who served as surgeon general from 2014 to 2017, has been advising Biden on a pandemic response for months and is expected to continue playing a critical role in the response. Walensky, who has studied the effectiveness and delivery of a potential COVID-19 vaccine in collaboration with Yale University, will take a leadership role in rolling out the vaccines, which could be approved in the coming days.

 The President-elect also announced four other healthcare-related appointments on Monday:

  • Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith will serve as Biden’s COVID-19 Equity Task Force Chair. Dr. Nunez-Smith is the founding director of Yale’s Equity Research and Innovation Center and an associate professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at the Yale School of Medicine.
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci will stay on as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and serve as the chief medical adviser on COVID-19 to President-elect Biden.
  • Jeff Zients, who will serve as coordinator of Biden’s COVID-19 response and counselor to the President-elect. Zients previously served as director of the National Economic Council and acting director and deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget. 
  • Natalie Quillian will serve as deputy coordinator of the administration’s COVID-19 response. Quillian previously served as an advisor to the White House Chief of Staff and senior advisor to the deputy national security advisor during the Obama-Biden Administration.

“This team of world-class medical experts and public servants will be ready on day one to mobilize every resource of the federal government to expand testing and masking, oversee the safe, equitable, and free distribution of treatments and vaccines, re-open schools and businesses safely, lower prescription drug and other health costs and expand affordable health care to all Americans, and rally the country and restore the belief that there is nothing beyond America’s capacity if we do it together,” Biden said of his selections.

Many medical and public health experts met the announcement of Biden’s choices with praise.

“They are at the top of their professions, brilliant, deeply compassionate, of the highest integrity with the expertise to get us to safety and back to a better world,” Gregg Gonsalves, assistant Professor in Epidemiology at Yale University, tweeted Monday. “@JoeBiden has picked the best, he did not hand out appointments as gifts or political favors on #COVID19.”