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01.20.2021

A Look at the Biden Administration’s Key Players – Tackling Vaccines and Beyond

Biden Health & Foreign Policy Team

As a new Biden administration takes office in the United States, it will be tasked with minimizing the spread of COVID-19 by advancing an equitable distribution of vaccines to the public.  

There’s no question that 2020 put a spotlight on vaccines, as the nation and world navigates the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, advances in vaccine development helped facilitate the creation of several COVID-19 vaccines toward the end of the year. As countries begin to distribute them, this year will be an important and challenging one for vaccine advocacy.  

Global organizations and governments prioritized COVID-19 vaccines for healthcare workers and the elderly. Soon, the rest of the population will need to receive them to ensure protection from the disease threats at home and abroad.  

However, the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations in the U.S. is currently slower than officials had hoped. 

On Jan. 14, the Biden administration laid out the “American Rescue Plan.” This nearly $2 trillion emergency relief proposal allocates $20 billion toward vaccine delivery. Furthermore, the Biden administration aims to deliver 100 million vaccine shots in his first 100 days 

Biden Instagram Vaccine Post

The plan includes funding for 100,000 public health workers to perform contact tracing, to conduct vaccine outreach, and to build long-term public health capacity in their local communities.  

On Jan. 19, Secretary of State designate, Antony Blinken, announced in a confirmation hearing that President Biden will have the U.S. join the COVAX initiative — a global effort from World Health Organization (WHO) and other groups to secure equitable access and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. 

Who are the prominent U.S. leaders appointed to handle these new tasks?  

Get to know the new key players in the White House 

Health Team  

Dr. Rochelle Walensky 

The Harvard infectious disease expert is Biden’s pick to lead the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Walensky has researched HIV/AIDS policy and compared witnessing the AIDS epidemic to the COVID-19 one. She said the CDC intends to increase public trust in the agency and help people overcome doubts about COVID-19 vaccines.   

Dr. Vivek Murthy  

Biden’s top health adviser has been nominated to return as U.S. Surgeon General. Murthy held this position during the Obama administration between 2014-2017, where he helped lead the national response to health challenges such as the opioid crisis and the Ebola and Zika viruses. He has spoken about how the pandemic has “highlighted various other ongoing public health challenges like addiction, mental health, chronic illness, and racial health disparities.”  

Dr. Anthony Fauci 

The current director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases will remain in his post and also serve as Biden’s chief medical adviser. 

Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith 

The director of the Equity Research and Innovation Center at Yale School of Medicine will lead the new COVID-19 Equity Task Force, which aims to reduce disparities in response, care, and treatment. 

President-elect Joe Biden hosts a coronavirus briefing in Wilmington, Delaware, on October 28. Drew Angerer/Getty ImagesPresident Joe Biden hosts a coronavirus briefing in Wilmington, Delaware, on October 28. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Dr. David Kessler 

The pediatrician and lawyer will lead Operation Warp Speed, the program designated to accelerate the development of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. Kessler helped speed the development and approval of AIDS drugs in the 1990s, and he previously headed the Food and Drug Administration during George Bush and Bill Clinton’s presidenciesHe will be replacing Moncef Slaoui, who served as science chief for the vaccine development and distribution initiative. 

Dr. Elizabeth Cameron 

The biologist who wrote the Obama “pandemic playbook” will return to serve as the National Security Council’s senior director for global health security and biodefense. The office was previously dissolved under the Trump administration.  

Xavier Becerra 

The California Attorney General has been nominated to be Health and Human Services secretaryreplacing Secretary Alex Azar. He is a lawyer and former member of Congress who has been vocal about criticizing efforts to unravel the Affordable Care Act.  

Dr. Bechara Choucair 

The chief health officer for Kaiser Permanente, a managed care organizationhas been named President Biden’s vaccinations coordinator. He will be responsible for working with federal agencies and state and local governments to coordinate a safe, timely, and equitable delivery of the COVID-19 vaccine.  

Jeff Zients  

Zients has been selected to be coordinator of the COVID-19 response and counselor to the president. He is a former director of the National Economic Council under Obama and helped lead the tech team that fixed the Obamacare HealthCare.gov website.  

Dr. Rachel Levine 

The pediatrician and Pennsylvania Health Secretary has been tapped to be assistant health secretary for the department of Health and Human ServicesIn the past, she has written about the opioid crisis, medical marijuana, adolescent medicine, eating disorders, and LGBTQ medicine. 

Foreign Affairs 

In the foreign affairs space, the new administration plans to re-join organizations, alliances, and treaties that the U.S. withdrew from in the last four years. The transition team has spoken about strengthening health systems in response to COVID-19, including bringing back U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)’s pandemic forecasting program and re-joining WHO.  

Samantha Power 

The former United Nations Ambassador will head USAID, the nation’s primary agency overseeing global U.S. humanitarian aid. President Biden is also elevating the role to be a member of the White House National Security Council.    

Antony Blinken  

Blinken, who has worked with Biden for nearly 20 years, has been picked to serve as secretary of state, the nation’s top diplomatHe was former deputy secretary of state under Obama, and he began his career at the State Department during the Clinton administration. He has pledged to improve damaged American diplomacy and build a united front to counter challenges posed by Russia, Chinaand Iran.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield 

The diplomat of 35 years has been nominated to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the UN. She previously served as assistant secretary of state for Africa during the Obama administration.  

Jake Sullivan  

Sullivan, Biden’s former aide, will serve as national security advisor. He was head of policy planning at the State Department under Hillary Clinton, becoming her closest strategic adviser. Sullivan has spoken about the need to put America’s middle class at the center of foreign policy debates and decision-making. 

Shot@Life looks forward to working with the new health and foreign policy teams to advance equitable access to vaccines.  


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  • Maya Punjwani Headshot
  • Maya Punjwani is the Communications Associate for the United Nations Foundation’s Shot@Life campaign. Prior to this position, she was a Global Health Communications intern at the UN Foundation and advance staff for Biden for President. Maya previously interned at the NYC Mayor’s Office of Correspondence and the personal office of Barack and Michelle Obama. She...