Many Public Health Crises Exacerbated by COVID Pandemic, Says Surgeon General Nominee Vivek Murthy at Confirmation Hearing
Indian American physician Vivek Murthy, nominee for U.S. Surgeon General, holds the baby socks of his two children for good luck as he stands next to his wife, Alice Chen, at the end of his confirmation hearing in the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee in Washington, DC, on Feb. 25. (Caroline Brehman/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
By SUNITA SOHRABJI/India-West Staff Reporter
Indian American physician Vivek Murthy, nominee for U.S. Surgeon General, pledged to turn around the COVID pandemic — which has claimed half a million lives in the U.S. — and to address the underlying health factors that have contributed to the public health crisis, during his confirmation hearing Feb. 25 with the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee.
“First and foremost, this is very personal. I’ve lost seven family members to COVID, most recently my uncle in Dallas a few weeks ago,” said Murthy, as his wife Alice Chen sat beside him.
“I want our kids to be able to get back to school. I want people to be able to go to work and not worry every day that they’re going to catch a virus and get sick. I want us to be able to come together as a community again. That’s what’s brought me back to public service. It’s why I hope to have the opportunity to serve our country once again,” said Murthy, who served as the nation’s Surgeon General during the Obama administration.
“This is a moment of tremendous suffering for our nation. More than half a million people have lost their lives to COVID-19, including beloved members of my own family. Many more are facing long-term health consequences and stressful financial struggles. If confirmed as surgeon general, my highest priority will be to help end this pandemic.”
“But as we address COVID-19, we cannot neglect the other public health crises that have been exacerbated by this pandemic: the opioid epidemic and racial and health inequities. I have witnessed how they are destroying lives and devastating families all across America,” said Murthy, who focused on the opioid crisis during his stint with the Obama administration, and wrote the first report issued by a Surgeon General on alcohol and drug abuse, which led to a launch of a task force focused on substance abuse.
Many ethnic communities have underlying conditions which place them at greater risk of getting ill and dying from COVID. Indian Americans, for example, tend to have several metabolic conditions which put them at greater risk: diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Indiaspora founder MR Rangaswami predicted Murthy would easily be confirmed by the full Senate. “Vivek was an exceptional Surgeon General in his last stint and has burnished his credentials even more since then,” he told India-West.
“His dedication to COVID recovery was evident when he came twice to address the Indiaspora community.”
“I believe Vice President Kamala Harris will be spared a visit to the Senate during his confirmation vote,” Rangaswami quipped. In the new Senate, which is divided 50-50, Harris will make the deciding vote if the Senate splits along partisan lines on Cabinet nominees.
Murthy addressed the bottleneck in vaccine distribution, noting that the Biden administration was well on its way to achieving its goal of administering 100 million vaccinations by the end of April, a strategy that requires three million doses to be administered each day.
“Under President Biden’s leadership, we now have a science-led coordinated national response. In the past month, we’ve already seen significant increases in testing and tracing and vaccination and we’ve seen downward trends in the number of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths.”
“But there is a lot of work ahead to keep families safe, get everybody vaccinated and fight misinformation with reliable public health guidance,” said Murthy.
The nominee also discussed the need to address vaccine hesitancy, particularly in communities of color, to let people know they are safe and effective. Responding to a question by committee chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Washington, Murthy said: “The essential job of the surgeon general has to be to communicate in a way that is driven by science.”
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and others brought up the contentious issue of schools reopening, even as teachers remain un-vaccinated.
“Across the country, we have had some school districts open, meaning kids going to school, and others are absolutely closed. But the evidence doesn’t show thus far that those schools with kids in classes are seeing a spike in COVID cases,” said the senator.
Murthy did not directly state whether schools should re-open, but noted that school closure has set off a concurrent mental health crisis among young people. He advocated for the need for prevention programs at school sites.