HHS Secretary Criticized as ‘Ghost’ During Pandemic

HHS Secretary Criticized as 'Ghost' During Pandemic Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra speaks during a news conference before he was confirmed Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

By Theodore Bunker | Wednesday, 26 January 2022 03:42 PM

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra has come under fire for a perceived lack of leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic as other healthcare authorities have taken prominence in the Biden administration, The Hill reported.

"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," according to Eric Topol, the director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, a nonprofit medical research center. "That's what we have now: an invisible HHS secretary. Just when we need that person the most."

"I think HHS needs to step up more," added Dr. Celine Gounder, MD, a specialist in infectious disease and epidemiology at New York University and Bellevue Hospital.

"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," Gounder said. "How do you reconcile that and make sense of that? I think that is one of the things the HHS secretary should be doing."

Tom Frieden, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the Obama administration, said HHS must do more to defend the CDC from criticism.

"I think the lack of communication coming directly from CDC reflects a combination of the fact that the White House is not always comfortable with the policies that CDC is recommending and therefore isn't comfortable with CDC speaking to the public," Frieden said.

A spokesperson for the secretary said Becerra is currently "tackling a wealth of issues, with COVID being the focus. The secretary drives agency operations to support carrying out the mission, whether he's coordinating our agencies to make booster doses accessible, authorizing the distribution of vaccines, or determining how to get masks in the hands of people in need of them."