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U.S. : Key Decision for Biden: Appoint Health Chiefs

President-elect Joe Biden will soon have to appoint the officials in charge of the United States’ health system, a decision of singular importance when the country is mired in the middle of a devastating pandemic.

The possibility of appointing a prominent candidate as Secretary of Health and Human Services disappeared. New Mexico Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham was offered another position – that of secretary of the interior – but turned it down, according to a source close to Biden’s transition team who asked not to be named. Lujan Grisham’s office declined to comment.

Biden is scheduled to appoint his secretary for Health and Human Services next week. That person must have “the confidence of the president, the ability to collaborate with different branches of government, credibility within the health sector, and the ability to work with regional governments,” said Mike Leavitt, who held that position under the presidency of George W. Bush.

Rhode Island Democratic Governor Gina Raimondo has emerged as a possible candidate for the health office. Although Raimondo has been aggressive in measures to contain the coronavirus, the disease is making a comeback in his state, and his closeness to the business world could provoke criticism from the left wing of the Democratic Party.

Another possible candidate is Vivek Murthy, former director of public health and co-chair of the special commission appointed by Biden to deal with the pandemic. Murthy has a personable personality and a reputation for consensus building. He is the author of a book on the harmful effects of loneliness, a problem that has worsened in the era of COVID-19.

In addition to the health secretary, Biden will soon need to appoint a special adviser to coordinate the government’s response to the pandemic.

The vaccines now in development will have to be distributed under the Biden administration, a Herculean task that is sure to lead to huge logistical problems. Democratic sources point to Jeff Zients, a businessman who was an economic adviser under President Barack Obama and who is credited with bailing out HealthCare.gov after its troubled deployment in 2013.

Biden will also have to appoint a chief for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and one for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

For the FDA, mention is made of the former deputy director of that agency Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, who was also director of health for the state of Maryland, and Dr. Luciana Borio, a member of Biden’s advisory commission for coronavirus issues, who has held senior positions in the FDA and the National Security Council and has expertise in responses to disease and bioterrorism events.

Considered for the CDC position is Dr. Julie Morita, an executive at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation who works on a wide range of medical issues. Morita spent nearly 20 years in leadership positions in the Chicago Department of Public Health, beginning as director of medical affairs and rising to commissioner.

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