Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, the 19th surgeon general of the United States and a member of the Yale SOM Class of 2003, and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, associate professor of internal medicine, public health, and management, will serve as two of the three co-chairs of a COVID-19 Advisory Board assembled by President-Elect Joe Biden, the Biden-Harris transition team announced on November 9. Dr. David Kessler, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, will serve as the third co-chair.
Nunez-Smith, an internist and an expert in healthcare equity, is the founding director of Yale SOM’s Pozen-Commonwealth Fund Fellowship in Health Equity Leadership, which trains healthcare practitioners to address disparities in healthcare access and outcomes that affect people of color and other vulnerable populations. She is also the founding director of the Equity Research and Innovation Center at the Yale School of Medicine.
Murthy, an early graduate of Yale’s joint MD-MBA program, was a hospitalist attending physician and instructor in medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital at Harvard Medical School and the founder of Doctors for America before being named surgeon general in 2015. After leaving government, he wrote the book Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World, which argued that loneliness is a pressing public health concern.
The COVID-19 Advisory Board will provide guidance to the transition team as it assembles the new administration’s response to the pandemic, in consultation with state and local officials. According to the announcement, one focus of the response will be addressing racial disparities in infections and deaths from COVID-19.
“Dealing with the coronavirus pandemic is one of the most important battles our administration will face, and I will be informed by science and by experts,” Biden said in a statement. “The advisory board will help shape my approach to managing the surge in reported infections; ensuring vaccines are safe, effective, and distributed efficiently, equitably, and free; and protecting at-risk populations.”
In a conversation with Yale Insights earlier this year, Nunez-Smith said that the disparity in outcomes during the pandemic reflects broader inequities. “The disproportionate representation of brown and Black people in those low-wage, frontline jobs that were deemed essential during the pandemic—that’s a structural reality,” she said. “To get to a place of equitable health outcomes, we have to have hard conversations about access to opportunity.”