As President-elect Joe Biden prepares for a presidency amid surging COVID-19 cases, he selected Edgewater resident Dr. Julie Morita as an expert on his COVID-19 Advisory Board.
Morita has lived in Edgewater for a majority of her life, according to a December 2018 Chicago Community Trust event. She said her main reason for choosing Edgewater as her home is the same reason her parents made the decision to live there: it’s near the Red Line.
“When I moved back to the city after my education and training, my husband and I chose the same community we were raised in because the Red Line was there,” Morita said during the 2018 event.
Morita and the Biden press team didn’t respond to requests for comment from The Phoenix.
Morita currently serves as an executive vice president at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, according to its website. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is a non-profit foundation working toward improving healthcare in America and enhancing the overall health of all Americans by funding research and grants, according to its website. In a University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign interview, Morita said the foundation raised 50 million dollars to provide basic necessities to marginalized communities struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Morita was born to Japanese-American parents who were sent to Japanese internment camps in Idaho during World War II, according to her biography on the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation website. Her family’s experience in the internment camps influenced her passion for health equity, according to the bio.
Morita often advocates for health equity, as shown in an Aug. 16 op-ed published by CNN. In the op-ed, Morita wrote about the importance of planning COVID-19 vaccine distribution immediately and the need for sufficient funding from the federal government so care for marginalized communities isn’t left behind.
“Without its leadership orchestrating such an effort, states and communities will be left to fend for themselves, competing for vaccines and supplies, and, in some cases, possibly neglecting those most likely to become infected and die in communities of color,” Morita wrote.
Starting her career at Group Health Medical Associates in Arizona, Morita treated pediatric patients while mentoring pediatric residents until Apr. 1997, according to her LinkedIn. After leaving Group Health Medical Associates, she started working as an Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for two years. Her role as an EIS officer was to oversee virus outbreak investigations and responses, among other things.
In November 1999, Morita joined the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) as a medical director supervising the storage and distribution of vaccines, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. She was eventually promoted to chief medical officer after working as a medical officer for 15 years and then became the commissioner in 2015. As chief medical officer, she helped prevent the spread of Ebola and Influenza in Chicago, among other things, according to her LinkedIn.
In her interview with the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Morita said her most notable work was raising awareness about the importance of young women taking the HPV vaccine to prevent cancers in light of public misconception about the vaccine’s necessity. As a medical officer for CDPH, she led a program educating healthcare professionals and the public on the vaccine, which resulted in an increase in vaccinations by 20 percent in Chicago.
“CDPH’s Immunization Program coordinated a multicomponent intervention including engagement of a broad array of stakeholders, a public awareness campaign focused on promoting HPV vaccine as a cancer preventing vaccine, and a healthcare provider educational program focused on equipping providers and their staff with scripts to use when recommending HPV vaccine,” Morita said in the interview.
Morita received a Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1986, according to her LinkedIn. In 1990, she earned a Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Illinois College of Medicine. After graduating from medical school, she was accepted into the Pediatric Residency Program at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.
Morita said in an University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign interview her experience in college prepared her for the hardships she faced in her life and taught her to be grateful for the help she has received from others. She also said she was able to gain a different perspective on life because she was surrounded by a group of diverse students.
“My college experiences gave me the confidence to take on future personal care and professional challenges and an increased appreciation for the resources and support that I have had access to throughout my life,” Morita said in the 2020 interview.
In the past, Morita has been a member of several organizations such as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Vaccine Advisory Committee and CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, among others, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Since July 2020, she is the board of director at the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.
Morita has been honored with many awards throughout her career, including Thresholds Community Behavioral Health System’s Hero Award, Midwest Asian Health Association Outstanding Leadership Award and Robert Wood Johnson National Award for Outstanding Epidemiology Practice in Addressing Racial Ethic Disparities, according to her LinkedIn.
Morita has two children with her husband, Dr. William Trick, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
In addition to Morita, Biden’s COVID-19 Advisory Board also includes Dr. David Kessler, Dr. Marcella Nunez Smith and Dr. Vivek Murthy as co-chairs along with thirteen other members, according to a Nov. 9 press release. Dr. Rebecca Katz and Dr. Beth Cameron will guide the Advisory Board team.
“The advisory board will help shape my approach to managing the surge in reported infections; ensuring vaccines are safe, effective, and distributed efficiently, equitably, and free; and protecting at-risk populations,” Biden said in the press release