President-elect Joe Biden has chosen Vice Admiral Vivek Murthy, MD, MBA, to once again be U.S. Surgeon General.
Murthy, 43, held the post under President Obama from December 2014 to April 2017. Biden has also chosen him to co-chair a coronavirus advisory board.
In his second rotation as surgeon general, Murthy’s previous efforts in promoting vaccine acceptance will come in handy.
Murthy famously appeared on “Sesame Street” with Elmo, where he explained the importance of vaccination in child-friendly terms.
Achieving adequate protection for the public would require three-fourths of the population to be vaccinated, which Murthy told NPR is “not going to be easy.” Yet, he described the goal of herd immunity as “ambitious but achievable” — reaching it will largely depend on the vaccine supply and gaining the public’s trust, he said.
Murthy, an internist, has also done his own research on vaccine development and clinical trials, published in Science and other journals.
In addition, Murthy is attuned to issues of mental health and deeply engaged in tackling the problem of loneliness, which has been another key concern for Americans under lockdown or stay-at-home orders.
Even before the pandemic, he cited isolation as an important public health problem in America. He told physicians in a 2019 speech that “it’s hard to escape the idea that social connection is a healing force we need to cultivate, and that we have, in fact, in many ways neglected or taken for granted.”
Murthy pointed out that while research on loneliness is not as robust as other diseases, some studies indicate that around 20% of U.S. adults are struggling with it. And, he said, research has shown it significantly increases the risk of heart disease, dementia, depression, and anxiety, and is associated with shorter lifespan.
Another point of focus for Murthy in his previous stint as surgeon general was drug addiction.
In 2014, Murthy released a report highlighting the issue, emphasizing the scientific data around the problem and calling for its recognition as a chronic illness, not a moral failing.
The report stressed not only the magnitude of the problem but its ripple effects on the long term health of communities, including decreased productivity, higher healthcare costs, increased crime, and unintended pregnancies.
Murthy has called on prescribers to follow CDC guidelines around opioid prescribing and to help connect those with addiction to effective treatment.
He has openly criticized the Trump administration’s coronavirus response to date. In mid-November, Murthy said that the lack of uniformity across the country in coronavirus restrictions has been problematic.
“We don’t have a uniform national alert system that tells communities at what level to start implementing restrictions based on indicators,” he told NPR.
But he argued that strict lockdowns may not be needed as long as people comply voluntarily with less restrictive measures. He added that restrictions that are too severe may actually result in less compliance, disrupted schooling and work, and “very little public health gain.”
As well, Murthy has been a strong proponent of gun violence prevention, characterizing it as a public health concern that demands more research.
Murthy also co-founded a peer-to-peer HIV/AIDs program in India and the U.S. alongside his sister, Rashmi Murthy, MD. He is also co-founder of Doctors for America, a nonprofit focused on providing access to high-quality affordable healthcare for everyone.
Murthy, an internist, earned his bachelor’s degree at Harvard and his medical degree and MBA from Yale.
Last Updated December 04, 2020