Dr. Julie Morita

President-elect Joe Biden on Monday named 13 health experts to his Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board.

Although President Trump has yet to concede and the task force is being formed without cooperation from the White House, Biden has identified the pandemic as a top priority that he will tackle as soon as he takes office in January.

The panel will be co-chaired by former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. David Kessler of UC San Francisco; former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who served under President Obama; and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, 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.

The task force members include Dr. Julie Morita, executive vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, where she oversees all programming, policy, research and communications activities. The nation’s largest private philanthropy dedicated solely to improving the nation’s health, RWJF concentrates on advancing health equity by eliminating barriers to health, including discrimination.

Before joining RWJF, Morita helped lead the Chicago Department of Public Health for nearly two decades, first as a medical director, then as chief medical officer. In 2015, she was appointed to the department’s top position, commissioner. In that role, she oversaw the public health needs of 2.7 million residents in the nation’s third largest city.

As commissioner, Morita led the development and implementation of Healthy Chicago 2.0, a four-year health improvement plan focused on achieving health equity by addressing the conditions in which people live, learn, work and play. The plan was based on RWJF’s Culture of Health framework.

As medical director, Morita’s top priority was reducing disparities in immunization coverage levels among children and adults in Chicago. She implemented systems to identify communities with the lowest rates of immunization and to provide families in those areas with information about, and access to, critical vaccines. Additionally, Morita led several policy initiatives to reduce tobacco usage among teens, including raising the legal age to purchase tobacco products to 21.

She has served on many state, local, and national health committees, including the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, and the National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on Community Based Solutions to Promote Health Equity in the United States. She is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Morita began her medical career as a pediatrician in Tucson, Ariz., before moving into public health as an Epidemic Intelligence Service officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta (CDC).

Influenced deeply by her own family history, Morita has been a lifelong advocate of equity issues. As children, both of her parents, Mototsugu and Betty Morita, were detained in U.S. internment camps during World War II. They and their extended families were uprooted from their homes, communities, and jobs in Washington and Oregon and transferred to a detention camp in Idaho. Having grown up hearing stories about the harsh and unjust treatment her grandparents, parents, and thousands of others endured, Morita has used that knowledge to pursue health equity in every aspect of her work.

Born and raised in Chicago, Morita earned her undergraduate degree in biology from the University of Illinois, and her medical degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago Medical School. She completed her residency at the University of Minnesota.

Morita is married to William Trick, MD, an internist who is director of the Collaborative Research Unit at Cook County Health. They have two young adult children, Megan and Jake.

The other members of Biden’s task force are:

Luciana Borio, former assistant FDA commissioner

Rick Bright, former BARDA (Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority) director

Zeke Emanuel, former Obama Administration health policy adviser

Atul Gawande, Brigham and Women’s hospital professor of surgery

Celine Gounder, NYU Grossman School of Medicine assistant professor

Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota

Loyce Pace, executive director of the Global Health Council

Dr. Robert Rodriguez, UCSF emergency medicine professor

Eric Goosby, former Ryan White Care Act director

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