In their own words: Biden health team vows to battle COVID-19 Updated for 2021

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Updated: March 2, 2021

U.S. President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Tuesday introduced key nominations and appointments of his health team, including Xavier Becerra, Secretary of Health and Human Services; Dr. Vivek Murthy, Surgeon General; Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, COVID-19 Equity Task Force Chair; Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Adviser to the President on COVID-19, who will also continue in his role as Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; and Jeff Zients, Coordinator of the COVID-19 Response and Counselor to the President. In addition, former White House and Pentagon senior advisor Natalie Quillian will serve as Deputy Coordinator of the COVID-19 Response.

Members of the health team, who were introduced in Wilmington, Delaware, promised to battle the deadly coronavirus with science, honesty, and transparency.

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Below is what each nominee or appointee said in their own words during their introduction ceremony by President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

Remarks by Attorney General Xavier Becerra in Wilmington, Delaware

Attorney General Xavier Becerra speaking with attendees at the 2019 California Democratic Party State Convention at the George R. Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco, California.
Attorney General Xavier Becerra speaking with attendees at the 2019 California Democratic Party State Convention at the George R. Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco, California.

Along with Carolina, my wife, and Natalia, Olivia, Clarisa, and Yvonne: greetings from California.

Mr. President-elect, Madam Vice President-elect, I am honored and excited to join your team. 

The mission of the Department of Health and Human Services has never been as vital or as urgent as it is today.

The COVID pandemic and its economic fallout have thrust families into crisis. 

Too many Americans are sick or have lost loved ones.

Too many have lost their jobs, and with that, their healthcare and hope.

You have made it clear, Mr. President-elect, that to build back a prosperous America we need a healthy America. That, then, will be Job One for your team at HHS.

Fifty-five years ago, during another time of hardship, former Health Secretary — and fellow Californian — John Gardner said:

“What we have before us are some breathtaking opportunities disguised as insoluble problems.”

Gardner went on to help President Lyndon Johnson build the Great Society — ushering in Medicare, Medicaid, and Civil Rights that brought greater equity, greater opportunity, and greater hope to all Americans.

Now it is our turn to discover the breathtaking opportunities before us in the midst of hardship and pain.

It is our turn to build up and to back up our doctors and medical professionals, our hospitals and clinics, battling the coronavirus; our turn to restore faith and confidence in our leaders to deliver solutions that unite and heal us and inoculate us from fear; our turn to spur our brightest minds to launch the next generation of innovative medicines and cures. 

And, it is our turn to build a nation where, as the President-elect so often says, health care is a right — not a privilege.

At HHS, tackling pandemics, saving lives, and keeping us healthy should be our calling card. 

And we won’t forget that there is a second “H” in HHS…The “human” services — the work we do for our children, seniors, and disabled — they will stand tall in a Biden-Harris HHS. 

Almost a year ago, on New Year’s Day, my father Manuel passed away peacefully at home surrounded by his family. We got to celebrate Christmas together. And, when the end came, my dad knew we were there with him. 

No one should ever have to die alone in a hospital bed, loved ones forced to stay away. That seems so contrary to the values of a great nation — the values that drew my parents, like generations before and after them, to come to America. 

Manuel and Maria Teresa had only their health and hope when they arrived in California. A road construction worker with a sixth grade education and a clerical worker who arrived in her teens from Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico. 

They built a pretty good partnership that lasted 67 years. Along the way they sent four kids to college and the military.

They opened the door for me. I am enormously grateful to them.

Now, President-elect Biden has offered me a breathtaking opportunity to work with his team to shape our healthcare future.

I share the president-elect and vice-president-elect’s determination to rebuild unity and civility in America. We know it takes hard work. We know we must do it together. We know it will be key to building critical momentum and support for the prevention and treatment of the coronavirus.

Those values and priorities will help us emerge from this pandemic a stronger, more just, and more equitable nation. Literally, there are millions of small business owners and tens of millions of workers who are counting on us. 

I am proud to have this chance to implement the president-elect’s vision for a better America through the challenging assignments that are in store for the Department of Health and Human Services. 

Mr. President-elect and Madam Vice President-elect, thank you for this opportunity to serve.

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Remarks by Dr. Vivek Murthy in Wilmington, Delaware

Dr. Vivek Murthy
Vivek Murthy, 19th Surgeon General of the United States.

Mr. President-elect and Madam Vice President-elect, thank you for your trust and confidence.

When I left my role as Surgeon General, I never dreamed I would have an opportunity to serve again. 

And in this moment of crisis, when so many Americans have fallen sick and lost loved ones, when people are losing jobs and struggling with childcare, I feel grateful to be able to do everything I can to end this pandemic. 

While this is a daunting task, we absolutely have what it takes to get the job done. 

We have world class scientists. 

We have courageous medical professionals who are risking their lives to care for the ill. 

We have companies on the cusp of delivering vaccines, and we are blessed with generous, compassionate people all across America who are stepping up to help those who are struggling.

If we all work together, we will overcome this pandemic and return to our lives. 

But COVID 19 is not the only health crisis we face — if anything, it has underscored a host of other epidemics that are devastating families and shortening lifespans: addiction, the opioid crisis, and spiraling mental health concerns; glaring racial disparities and high rates of diabetes and heart disease. 

These challenges are both caused and exacerbated by broader societal issues — from the economic strains families face to the disconnection and loneliness many of us feel.

In my new, expanded role, I will work to bring a health perspective to our policies across government so that our schools, workplaces, and communities can be forces for strengthening our health and well being.

But the truth is that the best policies — and the best vaccines and treatments — will not heal our nation unless we overcome the fear, anxiety, anger, and distrust so many Americans are feeling right now. 

So more than anything, I will come to this role as a doctor — one who learned the most important lessons about medicine not in medical school, but in the clinic my parents opened when they first came to America as immigrants decades ago. 

As a child, I saw how they took the time not just to diagnose illnesses, but to ask about their patients’ families and lives, happily poring over photos of children and grandchildren taken from wallets, listening deeply to people’s stories and struggles, often running well over the appointment time. 

They taught me that the best doctor is not an authority figure who writes prescriptions, but rather a partner in healing — someone who sees patients in their fullest humanity and empowers them to take control of their health.

That is the kind of doctor I have always tried to be. 

And if confirmed, that is the approach I will take as I serve as America’s doctor. 

I will dedicate myself to caring for every American, driven always by science and facts, by head and heart — and endlessly grateful to serve one of the few countries in the world where the grandson of a poor farmer in India can be asked by the president-elect to look out for the health of the entire nation. 

That is a testament to the promise of America — one that I will work to fulfill every day as Surgeon General.

Thank you.

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Remarks by Dr. Rochelle Walensky in Wilmington, Delaware

Dr. Rochelle Walensky
Environmental Portrait Dr. Rochelle Walensky

 Mr. President-elect, Madam Vice President-elect, I’m honored by the trust you’ve placed in me to serve the American people at this critical moment.

I want to thank my amazing husband and our three wonderful sons for answering this call along with me. 

As all doctors and public servants know, these jobs ask a great deal not only of us, but of our families.

The pandemic that brought me here today is actually one that struck America and the world more than thirty years ago.

Because my medical training happened to coincide with some of the most harrowing years of the HIV/AIDS crisis.

As a medical student, I saw firsthand how the virus ravaged bodies and communities.

Inside the hospital, I witnessed many people lose strength and hope.

While outside the hospital, I witnessed those same patients — mostly gay men and members of vulnerable communities — be stigmatized and marginalized, by their nation and many of its leaders.

A scientific breakthrough came in 1995, when the FDA approved the first AIDS cocktail, and we saw the first glimmers of hope.

I’ve dedicated my career ever since to researching and treating infectious disease and to ending the HIV/AIDS crisis for good.

Now, a new virus is ravaging us.

It is striking hardest, once again, at the most vulnerable — the marginalized; the under-served.

Nearly 15 million Americans have been infected.

Nearly 285,000 of our loved ones are gone.

The pain is accelerating, our defenses have worn down.

We are losing life, and hope, at an alarming rate.

I never anticipated that I would take on a role helping lead our national response.

Government service was never part of my plans.

But every doctor knows that when a patient is coding, your plans don’t matter.

You run to the code.

And when a nation is coding, if you are called to serve, you serve.

You run to take care of people; to stop the bleeding, to stabilize, to give them hope and a fighting chance to come back stronger.

That’s what doctors do.

And I’m honored to get to work with an administration that understands that leading with science is the only way to deliver breakthroughs, to deliver hope, and to bring our nation back to its full strength.

To the American people, and to each and every person at the CDC, I promise to work with you to harness the power of American science — to fight this virus and prevent unnecessary illness and deaths — so that we can all get back to our lives.

Thank you for this opportunity.

###

Remarks by Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith in Wilmington, Delaware

Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith
Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith

 Mr. President-elect, Madam Vice President-elect, thank you for the opportunity to serve the American people.

I’m proud to go to work with leaders who are deeply committed to science and to centering equity in our response to the pandemic.

Not as a secondary concern, or as a box to check — but as a shared value, woven into all of the work we do and prioritized by every member of the Biden-Harris team.

I’m enormously thankful to my research team, my colleagues, to President Salovey and the leadership at Yale for supporting me in this work.

And I’m grateful to all of the researchers and advocates who’ve blazed the trail, whose work on health equity and racial justice too often went unbelieved or overlooked across the generations.

Most of all, I’m thankful to my family, to Jessie and our three children, for their unwavering support and humor.

And to my mother, and her mother, for modeling kindness, generosity, and courageous leadership through service.

I have wanted to be a doctor since I was six years old, and I am a proud general internal medicine physician today.

But as I grew up, I came to understand that there were deeper dimensions to health, beyond what I saw in the human biology textbooks I borrowed from my mother’s bookshelf.

I grew up on St. Thomas, in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

A place where people too often died too young — from preventable conditions.

My own father had his first stroke in his forties and was left paralyzed.

I learned there was a term for what we were: an “underserved community” — marginalized by place and by race.

In my medical training, I saw countless patients whose conditions were shaped by factors having nothing to do with science — and everything to do with broader social inequities.

Now, the COVID-19 crisis has laid those inequities bare.

It is not a coincidence, or a matter of genetics, that more than 70 percent of African Americans, and more than 60 percent of Latinx Americans, personally know someone who has been hospitalized or died from COVID-19.

The same disparities ingrained in our economy, our housing system, our food system, our justice system, and so many other areas of our society have conspired, in this moment, to create a ‘grief gap’ that we cannot ignore.

It is our societal obligation to ensure equitable access to testing, treatments, and vaccines.

Equitable support for those who are hurting.

And equitable pathways to opportunity as we emerge from this crisis and rebuild — including for the most marginalized communities: the undocumented, the incarcerated, and the homeless.

I’m grateful for the chance to continue this work, to earn trust and find success through genuine partnerships with the people and communities who’ve been hit the hardest during — and before — this crisis.

On this team, you will be heard, you will be counted, and you will be valued.

Thank you.

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Remarks by Dr. Anthony Fauci in a Pre-recorded Message

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Adviser on COVID-19
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Adviser on COVID-19

President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris, thank you so much for asking me to be part of this COVID response team.

I hope that you don’t mind that the reason that I am sending this video is because a close friend and colleague at the NIH, Dr. Harvey Alter, is receiving the Nobel Prize in Medicine at the same time, and we wanted to attend the ceremony at the NIH to show our support.

Such an achievement is a reminder of the incredible public servants we have at the NIH and of America’s place as a pioneer in science and medicine.

I believe — as you do — that in the fight against this pandemic, we must lead with science. And that a key piece of our ongoing work is communicating consistently with the American people.

Whether it’s maintaining social distancing and not congregating indoors; or the 100 day challenge you described on masking; or to get as many people vaccinated as possible.

These actions are bold, but they are doable and essential to help the public avoid unnecessary risks, to help us save lives, reopen schools and business, and to eventually beat the pandemic. 

I look forward to advising you on these most urgent priorities and to working with this team of world-class experts whom I have known for many years and deeply respect.

I have been through many public health crises before, but this is the toughest one we have ever faced as a nation.

The road ahead will not be easy. We have got a lot of hard and demanding work to do in the next year.

But, as we have done during previous crises, I also know we can get through this pandemic together, as a nation.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be part of this effort. 

###

Remarks by Jeff Zients in Wilmington, Delaware

Jeff Zients
Jeff Zients

President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris — I am honored by your trust in me and humbled by the task at hand. And I am hopeful because of your leadership. 

As it is for both of you, everything starts with family for me. And I am forever grateful for the love and support of my wife, our children, and our parents. 

Mr. President-elect, we’ve known each other for a long time, and our relationship has been forged under immense pressure: the severity of the Great Recession; the challenge of implementing the Affordable Care Act; and the daily decisions a White House makes that affect the lives of millions of Americans. 

You and President Obama knew how to build a team with the right diversity of backgrounds and views. A team to make progress on difficult situations and capture enormous opportunities. 

That’s what I’ve tried to do throughout my career. 

I am not a doctor or public health expert. In fact, we’ve got the best ones in the world on this team. 

But I know management and execution. And the key part of the role you’ve asked me to take on is the last part, “Coordinator.” 

It’s about empowering experts, developing a culture of teamwork, and maintaining a focus on strategy and execution. 

It’s knowing that leadership requires expertise, transparency, and prioritization. It also requires trust, truth, and integrity. 

To the American people, that’s what this team will provide. 

We will utilize the full capacity of the federal government to get this pandemic under control. 

To harness and examine the data to expand testing. To deliver equipment and PPE to those on the frontlines. To provide resources for schools and businesses to operate safely. To address the racial disparities and inequities of this pandemic. To rejoin the global fight against COVID-19 — because no one is safe until everyone is safe. 

And with our collective expertise, we will oversee the rollout of the vaccine which, as the president-elect said, will be one of the greatest operational challenges our country has ever faced. 

And we will also pull the country together — across governments at the federal, state, and local levels, and across the private sector. 

And as we begin this vital work, Mr. President-elect, I remember what you told me when we were implementing the Affordable Care Act. 

Your message was: I know this is no small task; I know you and the team are feeling tremendous pressure to succeed; and we want and need the team to pull this off. 

You then said, “I know you and the team can do this, but I need you to promise me one thing: That you will always, always, give it to us straight because we have to understand the challenge we’re facing. Because most of all, we are in this together. And together we can do this.”

President-elect Biden, Vice President-elect Harris, and the American people, this team will always tell it to you straight. 

The work ahead will not be easy. But we know what needs to be done. And we will get it done, together. 

Thank you. 

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Simon Ateba
Simon Ateba
Simon Ateba covers the White House, the U.S. government, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions for Today News Africa in Washington D.C. Simon can be reached on simonateba@todaynewsafrica.com

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