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Boston-area ties run deep in Biden’s coronavirus task force

Dr. Atul Gawande is a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.Lisa Lake/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden has assembled a medical dream team of experts to join his COVID-19 task force, including several prominent health professionals with ties to the Boston area.

Here’s a look at the Greater Boston connections on Biden’s blue-ribbon panel tasked with battling the pandemic, which has killed more than 236,000 Americans.

Dr. David A. Kessler, task force cochairman Kessler’s currently a professor of pediatrics and epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco.

The former FDA commissioner earned his bachelor’s degree from Amherst College in 1973 before graduating from Harvard Medical School in 1979, according to a 2003 announcement from the California university, when he was named dean of its medical school.


Kessler led the FDA from 1990 to 1997 and during that time “reinvigorated the agency, speeding up the drug-approval process ... improving the medical-device approval process, instituting preventive controls for food safety, establishing nutrition labeling for food, establishing new safety regulations for the nation’s blood supply and developing the MEDWatch program for reporting adverse events and product problems,” said the 2003 statement from his university.

Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, task force cochairman ― Murthy served as US surgeon general from late 2014 to early 2017.

He received his bachelor’s degree from Harvard and, following his medical studies at Yale, completed his internal medicine residency at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and later joined Harvard Medical School as a faculty member in internal medicine, his website says.

Murthy, author of the book “Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World,” also serves on the board of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and the NCAA Board of Governors, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, task force cochairwoman — Nunez-Smith, an associate professor of general medicine and epidemiology at the Yale School of Medicine, also completed her residency at the Brigham.


“She is board certified in internal medicine, having completed residency training at Harvard University’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital and fellowship at the Yale Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars Program, where she also received a Masters in Health Sciences,” says her biography on Yale’s website.

Nunez-Smith also served previously as chief resident at the West Roxbury VA Medical Center, according to the Yale site.

Her work, the site says, “focuses on promoting health and healthcare equity for structurally marginalized populations," and she’s “the principal investigator on several NIH and foundation-funded research projects, including an NIH/NCI-funded project to develop a tool to assess patient reported experiences of discrimination in healthcare.”

Dr. Luciana Borio — Borio currently serves as vice president of technical staff at the In-Q-Tel strategic investment firm, which has an office in Waltham in addition to locations in Washington, D.C., Menlo Park, Calif., London, and Sydney, according to its website.

Borio, who until last year was a top biodefense specialist on the National Security Council, is also a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations and former acting chief scientist at the FDA.

She coauthored a September op-ed in STAT that laid out steps for restoring public trust in the push to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.

Borio and her coauthor, Dr. Jesse L. Goodman, wrote in STAT that “there must be clear communication to the public and recipients about what is known and what is not yet known about each vaccine’s safety and effectiveness and, for any unapproved product, a clear explanation of why it is not yet approved.”


Dr. Ezekiel J. Emanuel — Emanuel, current vice provost for global initiatives and chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania, served as a special advisor for health policy to the head of the White House Office of Management and Budget for two years early in the Obama Administration, his biography says.

He previously completed a varied course of study at Harvard.

“Dr. Emanuel received his M.D. from Harvard Medical School and his Ph.D. in political philosophy from Harvard University,” says his bio on the UPenn website. “After completing his internship and residency in internal medicine at Boston’s Beth Israel Hospital and his oncology fellowship at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, he joined the faculty at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.”

Dr. Atul Gawande — No stranger to the spotlight, the prominent surgeon and author has published a number of books on health policy and is a frequent guest on local and national news programs.

He’s also a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s and teaches at both Harvard Medical School and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, according to his website.

In addition, Gawande’s a longtime staff writer for The New Yorker magazine and served as a senior adviser in the Department of Health and Human Services during the Clinton administration.

“I’m grateful and honored to be asked to serve and to contribute to ending this pandemic,” Gawande tweeted Monday. “We have runaway spread right now. But I am confident we can get the virus under control, save lives and livelihoods, and bring people back together again.”


Dr. Celine Gounder — A clinical assistant professor at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, Gounder also has ties to Boston’s top-flight hospital network.

“Dr. Gounder was an intern and resident in Internal Medicine at Harvard’s Massachusetts General Hospital,” says her bio on the NYU site, which adds that she was elected a fellow of the Infectious Diseases Society of America in 2016.

Gounder, a frequent commentator on battling infectious diseases, also served as assistant commissioner and director of the Bureau of Tuberculosis Control at New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

“In early 2015, Dr. Gounder spent two months volunteering as an Ebola aid worker in Guinea,” her NYU bio says. “In her free time, she interviewed locals to understand how the crisis was affecting them. She is currently making Dying to Talk, a feature-length documentary about the Ebola epidemic in Guinea.”

Gounder took to Twitter Monday to rally the public to help one another amid the ongoing pandemic.

“It is an honor and privilege to be called on to serve and support President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris,” Gounder wrote. “We must care for one another. We must heal. We must unite against COVID.”

Loyce Pace — Pace, executive director and president of the Global Health Council, has Massachusetts ties as well.


She graduated in 1995 from Phillips Academy, a prestigious college preparatory school in Andover, before receiving her bachelor’s at Stanford and master’s in public health at Johns Hopkins, according to her LinkedIn profile.

The Global Health Council tapped Pace to lead the organization in 2016, saying at the time that she had “worked on the ground in more than 10 countries delivering health programs and mobilizing advocates.”

Pace said in a 2016 statement announcing her appointment that the council’s work was vital to protecting public health.

“The world has urgent global health needs, including pandemic emergencies and new disease trends,” Pace said at the time. "It is critical for global health organizations to think holistically and align our collective voices during a time of political transition and uncertainty. I am committed to ensuring the sustainability, the efficiency and the effectiveness of GHC to support its members and, ultimately, the people they serve.”

Dr. Robert Rodriguez — A professor of emergency medicine at the University of California, San Francisco’s School of Medicine, Rodriguez says in an entry on his school’s website that he’s a native Texan who “crisscrossed the country” for his professional training, which included a stop in Cambridge.

“I attended Notre Dame for undergrad (Go Irish), Harvard for med school and then completed a five-year combined emergency medicine/internal medicine residency at UCLA Medical Center,” Rodriguez says. “My intrigue with the complex physiology of the critically ill patient led me to a two-year critical care fellowship at Stanford Medical Center. I am board certified in emergency medicine, internal medicine, and critical care medicine.”

Among his recent publications is a September article headlined “Tackling Another COVID‐19 Pandemic Disparity: Distance from Major Academic Medical Centers Encumbers Emergency and Critical Care Physician Surge Capacity.”

Dr. Betsy Nabel, president of the Brigham Health network that includes Brigham and Women’s, praised the task force members in separate statement Monday.

“The Brigham community is filled with pride upon learning that three of the experts named to President-elect Biden’s COVID-19 task force have Brigham connections,” Nabel said. “Dr. Vivek Murthy and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith will serve as two of the three co-chairs while Dr. Atul Gawande will serve as a member. Dr. Murthy, the nation’s 19th surgeon general during President Barack Obama’s administration, is a former hospitalist at the Brigham while Dr. Nunez-Smith, a professor and associate dean at Yale, completed her residency training here."

Gawande, Nabel continued, is a Brigham surgeon who’s "dedicated his career to improving health care delivery systems for the benefit of patients everywhere. We’re grateful for the service of the diverse team of medical and scientific leaders that the President-elect has called upon to guide our nation’s ongoing response to COVID-19, and we remain optimistic that their collective wisdom and expertise will accelerate progress towards controlling the pandemic in our country.”

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Travis Andersen can be reached at