Updated at 10:20 a.m. ET
President-elect Joe Biden named 13 health experts to his Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board on Monday, advancing his plans despite uncertainty over how much the Trump administration will cooperate amid its ongoing legal challenge to the election results. The coronavirus has spread at alarming rates in the U.S. in recent weeks.
The panel will be co-chaired by three people: former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. David Kessler of the University of California, San Francisco; former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy; and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, an associate professor of medicine and epidemiology at Yale.
“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 a statement issued early Monday morning.
Biden made COVID-19 a central part of his campaign, calling for a stronger and more coordinated federal response to the pandemic even as President Trump downplayed the virus and criticized Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert. Trump has called Fauci an “idiot” and a “disaster” and suggested that he might fire him after the election.
Nearly 10 million Americans have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, and infections in recent days have set new records, topping 100,000 per day. Nearly 238,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 since January.
“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 the statement.
The advisory board will work to create a plan to bring the pandemic under control — a process Biden says will begin immediately after his Jan. 20 inauguration.
The team includes several people who have served in senior public health positions in the federal government. The roster includes Dr. Rick Bright. Bright was ousted as head of the government’s leading-edge research agency, Biomedical Advanced Research and Development, earlier this year after he criticized the federal government’s pandemic response.
Also on the advisory board are Luciana Borio, a biodefense and disease specialist who has worked for the National Security Council, and Eric Goosby, who was President Barack Obama’s global AIDS coordinator.
Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer announced Monday that an experimental vaccine it has been working on has been shown to be 90% effective at preventing COVID-19. Biden, in a statement on Monday separate from the one announcing the advisory board, expressed cautious optimism over the development.
“Americans will have to rely on masking, distancing, contact tracing, hand washing, and other measures to keep themselves safe well into next year,” he said. “Today’s news is great news, but it doesn’t change that fact.”
“That is the reality for now, and for the next few months,” the president-elect said. “Today’s announcement promises the chance to change that next year, but the tasks before us now remain the same.”
Although the vaccine still requires FDA approval and faces other regulatory hurdles, Pfizer said it expects to have 50 million doses of the new vaccine by the end of 2020, enough for 25 million people. In 2021, the company expects to produce 1.3 billion doses.
Murthy, a key adviser to the Biden campaign, recently told NPR that a Biden administration would have “a laser focus on ensuring that people get … adequate testing and clear information.”
“We have to function as one nation. That means having a national plan,” Murthy, said.
On Friday night, Biden said, “I want everyone — everyone — to know on Day 1, we’re going to put our plan to control this virus into action.”
In a tweet on Saturday, Bright said: “It’s time to heal America. Time to stop the virus.”