Biden names members of COVID-19 advisory task force; taps BARDA whistleblower Rick Bright

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President-elect Joe Biden hit the ground running Monday morning with an announcement of his transition team’s COVID-19 advisory board.  The advisory board will be co-chaired by public health experts including Rick Bright, a vaccine expert and the former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), who raised concern about President Trump’s response to the pandemic in April.

In his announcement this morning, Biden said dealing with the coronavirus pandemic is one of the most important battles his administration will face. He said he intends to be “informed by science and by experts.”

“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,” said President-elect Biden. “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,” Biden said in the statement.

Meet the Team

The transition team is comprised of co-chairs David Kessler, a former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and current professor of Pediatrics and Epidemiology and Biostatistics at UCSF; Vivek Murthy, a former Surgeon General of the United States; and Marcella Nunez-Smith, an Associate Professor of Internal Medicine, Public Health, and Management at Yale University.

Other members of the transition team include Luciana Borio, a former FDA official; Ezekiel J. Emanuel, an oncologist and chair of the Department of Bioethics at The Clinical Center of the National Institutes of Health; Atul Gawande, professor of Surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital; Celine Gounder, a Clinical Assistant Professor at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine who studied TB and HIV; Julie Morita, executive vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation;  Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota; Loyce Pace, executive director of Global Health Council; Robert Rodriguez, professor of Emergency Medicine at the UCSF School of Medicine; Eric Goosby, an internationally recognized expert on infectious diseases and professor of Medicine at the UCSF School of Medicine.

COVID-19 infections continue to skyrocket across much of the United States. According to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 dashboard, there are now more than 50 million positive infections in the United States and more than 237,000 COVID-related deaths.

Bright back in the picture

The inclusion of Bright can also be seen as a repudiation of the Trump administration’s treatment of those experts who disagreed with the manners in which the White House has tackled the pandemic over the past six months. In April, Bright was terminated from his role as director of BARDA after he raised concerns over statements made by the White House regarding malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment for COVID-19. At the time, Bright said he was removed from the position he held since 2016 because he spoke out against repeated statements made by the president that lacked scientific merit. Trump famously touted hydroxychloroquine as a panacea against COVID-19 despite the fact that multiple clinical studies showed the malaria treatment did not provide a robust response in patients.

When he was terminated from BARDA, Bright was reassigned to a narrower role at the National Institutes of Health. He ultimately resigned from the federal government last month, saying the Trump administration “ignores scientific expertise, overrules public health guidance and disrespects career scientists.”

In addition to his roles at BARDA and NIH, Bright served as an advisor to the World Health Organization. Bright got his start in government service researching influenza vaccines at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Biden announced his transition team the same day Pfizer and its vaccine-development partner BioNTech announced their two-dose regimen candidate generated a vaccine efficacy rate above 90% at 7 days following the second dose.