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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 January 2021

Biden picks Lebanese-American doctor for Covid-19 response programme

Former Chicago public health chief Bechara Choucair will co-ordinate US delivery of vaccines with state officials

Bechara Choucair has been appointed vaccine co-ordinator on US president-elect Joe Biden's Covid-19 response team. CityHealth via AP
Bechara Choucair has been appointed vaccine co-ordinator on US president-elect Joe Biden's Covid-19 response team. CityHealth via AP

US president-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday named Lebanese-American doctor Bechara Choucair as vaccine co-ordinator in an expansion of his Covid-19 response team.

Dr Choucair is a family physician who served as Chicago’s public health commissioner from 2009 to 2014 and is currently chief health officer of Kaiser Permanente, America’s largest private integrated health system.

As vaccine co-ordinator, Dr Choucair will oversee delivery of vaccines while working with state and regional officials.

In a tweet, Dr Choucair said he was honoured to join the incoming Biden administration at a “pivotal moment in the pandemic”.

“I’m humbled to be part of the team working to ensure an efficient, equitable and effective rollout,” said Dr Choucair.

In an article in The Hill in July, Dr Choucair railed against “systemic racism” in the healthcare system, in which African Americans are more than twice as likely to perish from Covid-19 as whites.

He called for a “revolution in public health” that addresses “poverty, pollution, housing, food security” and racism.

During his time at the Chicago Department of Public Health, Dr Choucair focused on projects to fight teenage smoking and obesity and to increase life expectancy.

The physician studied medicine at the American University of Beirut and then earned a master’s degree in healthcare management from the University of Texas at Dallas.

Over the past week, Mr Biden has called out Mr Trump's administration's shortcomings in effectively distributing vaccinations amid reports of the new strain of coronavirus appearing on US soil.

Administration officials had previously predicted there would be 20 million inoculations carried out by the end of December, but last week acknowledged they were unlikely to reach that number.

"The Trump administration's plan to distribute vaccines is falling far behind," Mr Biden said.

Mr Biden he would direct a "much more aggressive effort, with more federal involvement and leadership to get things back on track" after taking office on January 20.

The Trump administration’s programme for vaccine production and distribution, Operation Warp Speed, projected 20 million Americans would be inoculated by the end of the year.

But the latest numbers from the Centres of Disease Prevention and Control show only about two million people have received their first dose, despite 11 million doses having been delivered to health centres nationwide.

"To recover from this pandemic, we must take aggressive action to manufacture, distribute, and administer vaccines, testing, and personal protective equipment in an equitable way. These individuals are deeply qualified and will restore public trust in the pandemic response by leading with facts, science, and integrity," Mr Biden said in a statement announcing the new members of his Covid-19 response team.

Mr Biden tapped Carole Johnson, currently commissioner of New Jersey's Department of Human Services, as the new testing co-ordinator.

Ms Johnson previously worked on the Domestic Policy Council in the Obama-Biden White House, including during the Ebola and Zika responses.

Additionally, Tim Manning was selected to be the new vaccine supply co-ordinator. Mr Manning also served under the Obama-Biden administration as deputy administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

His will be responsible for ensuring the availability of sufficient personal protective equipment, tests, vaccines and other supplies.

Updated: December 31, 2020 08:04 PM

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