Our country is in the middle of the worst public health crisis in American history, and despite the approval of multiple COVID-19 vaccines, the Donald Trump administration’s failure to effectively distribute the vaccine far and wide has undermined the response to the pandemic and left Floridians vulnerable to the virus.
As a front-line doctor here in Miami, I’ve seen firsthand the tragic toll it has taken in my community, where we still have too many COVID-19 cases and not nearly enough vaccines.
The blame for this dysfunction ultimately is not on our local government who are trying their hardest with limited resources; it stems from the lack of experience and coordination from the very top.
With more than 400,000 American lives lost to COVID-19, including 24,000 Floridians and millions more out of work, the Joe Biden administration must make up for lost time in tackling the pandemic and rebuilding our nation’s economy.
That is why, now more than ever, we need a strong, experienced leader to serve as Secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services, and Xavier Becerra is the right person for the job. Congress should immediately move to confirm his nomination once it is up for a vote in the Senate — including our two Senators from Florida.
While the Trump administration has spent the last year refusing to acknowledge the severity of the COVID-19 crisis, and sabotaging our country’s response to the pandemic, Biden has been working to develop a plan to slow the spread of the virus and rebuild our economy. Key to that plan is his appointment of a strong, experienced, diverse team, led by HHS Secretary-designate Becerra, a fierce health care champion whose experience in Congress and state government makes him uniquely qualified to serve as Health and Human Services Secretary.
Throughout his career, Becerra has been on the front lines fighting to expand access to affordable care and protect underserved communities.
As a member of Congress, Becerra was an original co-sponsor of the Affordable Care Act and a staunch defender of Medicare and Medicaid. In his 24 years in Congress, Becerra worked across the aisle to get things done, prioritizing the health and safety of his community over partisan differences.
I have faith, as a medical professional, that as HHS Secretary, Becerra can undo the damage done by the Trump administration, and “hit the reset” experts are calling for to revitalize our country’s vaccine rollout. Until then, millions will remain unprotected against the virus, and unable to safely return to work.
Floridians are suffering, and millions across the country are struggling to make ends meet. Nearly 20 million Americans filed for jobless benefits in mid-December and job growth has slowed. Instead of providing support to those in need, Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans spent months blocking meaningful relief for the American people.
Unfortunately, we cannot effectively rebuild the economy and get people back to work until the virus is under control, and we need leaders at our federal health department who will confront this crisis head-on.
Becerra is up to this job and should be swiftly confirmed by the Senate.
We have waited long enough for real leadership, and with the virus spreading rapidly in Florida and across the country, we cannot wait any longer. The pandemic demands a strong and knowledgeable HHS secretary who can marshal the people and resources to not only contain the spread of the virus but ensure a smooth and equitable vaccination distribution program that doesn’t leave communities behind.
Becerra is the right person at the right time, and he deserves the support of every Senator to move his confirmation forward.
To delay his appointment is to prolong our suffering and put millions of Americans’ lives in jeopardy.
Dr. Manrique Iriarte is an internal medicine primary care doctor based in Miami Lakes.