Biden taps three experts with Yale ties to lead COVID-19 advisory board

Drs. Marcella Nunez-Smith, Vivek Murthy, and David Kessler will serve as co-chairs of President-elect Biden’s COVID-19 Transition Advisory Board.
Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith
Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith

President-elect Joe Biden has named three public health experts with close Yale ties to lead his transition team’s new COVID-19 advisory board, including Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, an authority on the pandemic’s disproportionate effect on communities of color.

Nunez-Smith — associate professor of internal medicine, public health, and management — will co-chair the COVID-19 Transition Advisory Board with Dr. Vivek Murthy ’03 M.B.A. ’03 M.D., a former U.S. surgeon general, and Dr. David Kessler, a former dean of Yale School of Medicine and past commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The full board, which includes 10 other doctors, scientists, and public health experts, will guide the incoming administration’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, including efforts to manage a surge of infections, ensure the approval of safe vaccines, and protect at-risk populations. Cases of the virus are on the rise in at least 40 states, with more than 9.3 million total infections, and more than 236,000 deaths.

According to the Biden-Harris transition team, the advisory board will “consult with state and local officials to determine the public health and economic steps necessary to get the virus under control, to deliver immediate relief to working families, to address ongoing racial and ethnic disparities, and to reopen our schools and businesses safely and effectively.”

Nunez-Smith, Murthy, and Kessler were already advising the Biden campaign on the crisis, and now have a new opportunity.

Our country is facing an unprecedented time with COVID-19 cases accelerating nationwide,” said Nunez-Smith. “Everyone is affected by this pandemic, yet the burden is disproportionate. We know communities of color are grieving at high rates and are facing substantial economic impact. The transition advisory board is setting a course for everyone in our country to experience recovery. I’m honored to help lead on that work and thank President-elect Joe Biden for the opportunity to serve.”

Said Dr. Nancy J. Brown, Yale’s Jean and David W. Wallace Dean of Medicine:

Yale faculty and alumni have been working diligently to address the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, and we are delighted that the three co-leaders of the task force, all with ties to Yale, are poised to have an even greater impact. Dr. Nunez-Smith brings a scientific understanding of the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on the health of specific groups in the community, which is critical to meet the challenges we are facing.”

Nunez-Smith, the director of Yale’s Center for Community Engagement and Health Equity, the founding director of the Equity Research and Innovation Center, and the medical school’s associate dean for health equity research, studies disparities in healthcare access. She was one of the original Clinical and Translational Science Award scholars at the Yale Center for Clinical Investigations, and is now one of the program’s deputy directors.

Nunez-Smith has also chaired the community sub-committee for Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont’s Reopen Connecticut Advisory Group, focusing on communities and groups most at risk for severe COVID-19.

Drs. Vivek Murthy (left) and David Kessler
Drs. Vivek Murthy (left) and David Kessler (Kessler photo courtesy of Amherst College)

Murthy served as surgeon general under President Obama. As vice admiral of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, he commanded a uniformed service of 6,600 public health officers. They focused on helping underserved populations, protecting the nation from Ebola and Zika, responding to the Flint water crisis, and natural disasters such as hurricanes. Murthy also is founder and president of Doctors for America, a group of over 15,000 physicians and medical students who support high-quality affordable healthcare for all Americans. 

As FDA commissioner under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Kessler oversaw the implementation of mandatory nutritional labelling and advocated for greater regulation of the tobacco industry. Later, from 1997 to 2003, he served as the dean of Yale School of Medicine. He is currently professor of pediatrics and epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California-San Francisco School of Medicine.

As the nation continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, Yale is proud to have three members of the university family guiding the president-elect’s transition strategy on this topic of such crucial importance to our country, our world, and our collective future,” said Yale President Peter Salovey. “Drs. Kessler, Murthy, and Nunez-Smith exemplify Yale’s commitment to research excellence, and to improving the world today and for future generations. I offer them my congratulations and gratitude for their leadership and service.”

Also serving on the task force is Yale alumna Rebecca Katz ’98 M.P.H., director of the Center for Global Health Science and Security at Georgetown University.

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Part of the In Focus Collection: Yale responds to COVID-19

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