​​'An invisible HHS secretary': Critics come after Xavier Becerra for pandemic absence

Outside health experts and former officials are criticizing HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra for taking a back seat in his leadership, The Hill reported Jan. 26. 

One of Becerra's main responsibilities during the pandemic is to bring together different factions of healthcare with competing interests and unify them to create a strong public message on COVID-19. Critics say, however,  he has left that role up to the CDC and the White House by ceding his authority to them. At a time when the Biden administration has already been criticized for confusing public messaging on the pandemic, some say the low profile of Mr. Becerra is part of the issue.

"Of all the HHS secretaries we've had, at least in the last multiple administrations, we've never had one that was a ghost when it came to a public health crisis. That's what we have now: an invisible HHS secretary. Just when we need that person the most," said Eric Topol, MD, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, Calif.

A spokesperson for Mr. Beccera disputed the notion that he was not leading and told the Hill that he is "tackling a wealth of issues, with COVID being the focus."

Some critics suggest that Mr. Beccera should shield the CDC from criticism by being more vocal and try to reconcile public health policy messages between agencies. 

"I think HHS needs to step up more," Celine Gounder, MD, an infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist at NYU Langone Health and Bellevue Hospital in New York City, told the Hill. "I think there is a need for perhaps better coordination because it can be confusing to the public if there seems to be different messages coming out as different agencies."

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