Heal the country? Disease specialists running for Congress

This May 2020 photo provided by Sarah Jessop shows Natalia Linos, a Democrat candidate for the Massachusetts 4th Congressional District in the Sept. 1 primary election. Linos, a social epidemiologist and executive director of the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University, is one of many in a crowded field seeking to replace U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III, who is running for Senate. (Sarah Jessop via AP)
This May 2020 photo provided by Sarah Jessop shows Natalia Linos, a Democrat candidate for the Massachusetts 4th Congressional District in the Sept. 1 primary election. Linos, a social epidemiologist and executive director of the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University, is one of many in a crowded field seeking to replace U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III, who is running for Senate. (Sarah Jessop via AP) (Copyright 2020 Sarah Jessop)

BOSTON – A background in science — specifically, infectious disease and epidemiology — may not spring to mind as a key selling point for candidates hoping to land a seat in Congress.

Not unless, say, the country is in the throes of a deadly pandemic.

Two Democrats in Massachusetts are highlighting their disease expertise as they pitch themselves to voters in the state's Sept. 1 primaries, while at the same time arguing that their focus on the coronavirus and its social fallout also gives them a unique perspective on a host of other issues — from health care and housing to racial inequality and the environment.

Natalia Linos is a social epidemiologist and executive director of the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University. She's also a candidate in the crowded race to replace U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III in the state’s 4th Congressional District.

Kennedy is challenging incumbent U.S. Sen. Edward Markey in the state’s Democratic primary, creating an open race to fill his seat. Linos is one of eight candidates vying for the party’s nomination in the blue-leaning district.

Linos, who spent a decade working at the United Nations before landing at Harvard, said she hadn’t intended on jumping into the race. Then President Donald Trump announced earlier in the year that he would withdraw the U.S. from the World Health Organization — a decision Linos said baffled her, coming in the midst of the fight against the pandemic.

“I entered the race because I felt I had a unique skill set for this moment,” Linos said. “If we had more people in Congress with a science background, we might have made better decisions.”

The 38-year-old mother of three has lived off and on in Brookline, a suburb of Boston, for the past seven years. She grew up in Greece and spent much of her life overseas. She said that global perspective has made the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. look even more disappointing.