06.16.22

Amid Threat of New COVID Variants and a Fall Surge, Murray Urges Republicans to Support COVID Emergency Funding

***WATCH SENATOR MURRAY’S OPENING REMARKS HERE***

 

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, led a hearing on the federal COVID response and the urgent need to pass emergency COVID funding amid threats of new COVID variants and a fall surge, with members of the Biden Administration COVID response team, including: Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH); Dr. Robert Califf, Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA); and Dawn O’Connell, Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). 

 

At the hearing, Senator Murray made clear that, in addition to Congress passing funding, the Biden Administration must be doing everything it can right now to prepare for whatever the pandemic throws at us next: including by investing in next-generation testing, therapeutics, and vaccines so we’re prepared for variants that can evade our current tools—and by giving schools the guidance and support they need to keep kids in school safely come the fall.

 

“We cannot afford to get caught off guard by this virus again. We cannot afford to go back. That’s why I’m shocked I still have to remind my colleagues: the progress we have made so far wasn’t guaranteed—it was accomplished through Congressional action, and through robust investments,” said Senator Murray. “And what happens next isn’t a given either. It’s up to us to stay the course in our support and investments if we are going to protect our families and communities from whatever this pandemic throws at us next. That’s why passing emergency funding to continue our response needs to be a top priority—for every single one of us. Because make no mistake—it’s not a matter of if this pandemic will throw us another curveball it’s a matter of when. That’s why emergency COVID funding isn’t something that would be nice to have—it’s something we desperately need.”

 

“Democrats have been hammering this home for months—we’ve been yelling from the rooftops, warning what’s at risk if we don’t get this done,” continued Senator Murray. “The fact the Administration has had to resort to allocating resources from our long-term needs to keep our short term response afloat—that’s not a solution. That’s a stopgap. And it should be a clear sign of how urgent it is that Congress take action.”

 

Senator Murray also emphasized the critical importance of investing next-generation vaccines that can keep us safe from new COVID variants, more accurate tests, and new treatments that work against new variants to prevent serious illness and death.

 

“Let’s be clear—we can’t just keep buying the same tests, treatments, and vaccines. Especially when the virus is getting more effective at evading them,” said Senator Murray. “As important as they continue to be to our progress, we cannot continue acting as though the vaccines and therapeutics we have now are the end-all-be-all. We’ve got to support the next generation, keep several irons in the fire, and avoid getting caught in a situation where our tools or options are limited to just a few companies. After all, we know this virus won’t play favorites. That’s why it’s critical we invest in the research and development of next generation tests, vaccines, and treatments that are more effective, or easier to store, transport, and administer, and more. Because once there is a variant that can’t be detected by our current tests, that doesn’t respond to our current treatments, that isn’t stopped by our current vaccines. We need to be ready. And the research and development of these critical tools can take time.”

 

Senator Murray also made clear we need to be preparing—now—to ensure schools are ready to keep students and educators safe come back to school season in the fall. She urged the Administration to ensure our public health agencies are working closely with the Department of Education to get schools the support they need.

 

“We need to make sure we are getting our communities the guidance, and technical assistance they need to get ready as well. This is especially critical to our schools. Schools officials and educators want to do everything they can to keep students safely in the classroom,” said Senator Murray. “But we can’t leave them waiting until back-to-school season if we are going to make it happen. Schools back in my state want to know what they can be doing—right now—to get ready for next school year.”

 

At Thursday’s hearing, Senator Murray also asked Dr. Califf for an update after storm flooding forced Abbott’s infant formula manufacturing facility in Sturgis, Michigan to once again halt production.

 

“Dr. Califf, I understand flooding from storms has forced Abbott’s infant formula manufacturing facility in Sturgis offline once again,” said Senator Murray. “I hope you can speak directly to the families in Washington state and across the country, about what occurred and how you are taking action to get them formula and making sure this doesn’t worsen the crisis or delay our work to get formula back on shelves as soon as possible.”

 

Senator Murray’s opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below:

 

“Before we get started, there is another issue I know we are all extremely focused on—the formula crisis.

 

“Dr. Califf, I understand flooding from storms has forced Abbott’s infant formula manufacturing facility in Sturgis offline once again.

 

“So Ranking Member Burr and I would like to give you a moment before we begin to update the Committee on the latest with the plant.  

 

“I hope you can speak directly to the families in Washington state and across the country, about what occurred and how you are taking action to get them formula and making sure this doesn’t worsen the crisis or delay our work to get formula back on shelves as soon as possible.”

 

[Dr. Califf responds]

 

“We have made tremendous progress in the fight against this pandemic.

 

“It’s much easier to get tests.

 

“Schools have safely returned to in-person learning.

 

“Businesses have re-opened.

 

“There are new, lifesaving treatments for people with COVID and multiple safe, effective vaccines.

 

“And there’s encouraging news to suggest vaccines for kids under age five will be available soon—something I know parents across Washington state, and the country, are eagerly awaiting.

 

“Across the country, we have gotten over half a billion shots in arms: Three in four people have gotten their first COVID vaccination and two-thirds of people are fully vaccinated.

 

“That is remarkable progress—but we have to remember the hardship of this pandemic—especially the early days, and the hard work it took to get us where we are today.

 

“COVID-19 has killed over a million people in our country—an unthinkable loss.


“It closed businesses, shifted schools online, and so much more.

“And we cannot afford to get caught off guard by this virus again.

 

“We cannot afford to go back.

 

“That’s why I’m shocked I still have to remind my colleagues: the progress we have made so far wasn’t guaranteed—it was accomplished through Congressional action, and through robust investments.

 

“And what happens next isn’t a given either.

 

“It’s up to us to stay the course in our support and investments if we are going to protect our families and communities from whatever this pandemic throws at us next.

 

“That’s why passing emergency funding to continue our response needs to be a top priority—for every single one of us.

 

“Because make no mistake—it’s not a matter of if this pandemic will throw us another curveball it’s a matter of when.

 

“That’s why emergency COVID funding isn’t something that would be nice to have—it’s something we desperately need.

 

“Because if we wait until there’s already a new, dangerous variant or until we’re in the middle of a fall or winter surge—which some experts are predicting will happen.

 

“Then we’ll have already missed the boat.


“We need to be doing everything we can now to get ready.

 

“That’s what people back in Washington state and across the country are depending on Congress to do, and it’s what I want to hear more about from all of our witnesses today: what do we need to do right now so that we are not caught off guard later.

 

“Because one thing we already know, is that when it comes to pandemics—when it comes to public health—an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

 

“So we need to be investing in prevention—now.

“We need to be ordering the treatments we need for a fall surge—now. Especially when it can take six months to manufacture Paxlovid.

 

“We need to be ordering the vaccines we will need—now.

 

“We need to be combatting misinformation that is already far too prevalent and damaging—now.

 

“We need to be getting the testing and PPE we will need lined up—especially for our schools and health care facilities—now.

 

“And let’s be clear—we can’t just keep buying the same tests, treatments, and vaccines.


“Especially when the virus is getting more effective at evading them.

 

“As important as they continue to be to our progress, we cannot continue acting as though the vaccines and therapeutics we have now are the end-all-be-all.

 

“We've got to support the next generation, keep several irons in the fire, and avoid getting caught in a situation where our tools or options are limited to just a few companies. After all, we know this virus won’t play favorites.

 

“That’s why it’s critical we invest in the research and development of next generation tests, vaccines, and treatments that are more effective, or easier to store, transport, and administer, and more.


“Because once there is a variant that can’t be detected by our current tests, that doesn’t respond to our current treatments, that isn’t stopped by our current vaccines.

 

“We need to be ready. And the research and development of these critical tools can take time.

 

“And let’s be clear, none of that would be unprecedented, in fact it is to be expected. 

 

“When it happens, time is of the essence to save lives. And families are counting on us—right now—to act like it.

 

“The reality is, we are already running out of resources to prepare for the fall, and running out of time to fix that.

 

“Democrats have been hammering this home for months—we’ve been yelling from the rooftops, warning what’s at risk if we don’t get this done.

 

“I am at a loss as to how I can possibly make the urgency of this moment more clear to my Republican colleagues.

 

“The fact the Administration has had to resort to allocating resources from our long-term needs to keep our short term response afloat—that’s not a solution. That’s a stopgap.

 

“And it should be a clear sign of how urgent it is that Congress take action.

 

“We need to continue to support a full, robust response—this is simply too important to scramble again on short notice or short-change communities.

 

“And in addition to more resources—we need to make sure we are getting our communities the guidance, and technical assistance they need to get ready as well.


“This is especially critical to our schools.

 

“Schools officials and educators want to do everything they can to keep students safely in the classroom.

 

“In fact, everyone wants that.

 

“But we can’t leave them waiting until back-to-school season if we are going to make it happen. Schools back in my state want to know what they can be doing right now to get ready for next school year.

 

“How can they best position themselves, to make sure, if we have a fall surge they have the resources and a plan in place that protects students and educators, and keeps them safely in the classroom.

 

“So I want to hear more from our witnesses about how they are working with the Department of Education to get schools the support they need here.

 

“And of course, in addition to making sure we prepare for what is next in the course of this pandemic, we need to make sure we are ready for whatever public health threat we face next—period.

“That means making sustained, annual investments in our public health system, like I have proposed, so we can end the cycle of crisis and complacency.

 

“It means making bold investments in pandemic preparedness.

 

“It means strengthening our federal policies and processes, like Senator Burr and I are working to do in our bipartisan PREVENT Pandemics Act.

 

“And—I know I’ve said it already but I’ll say it again and again until we get this done—it means passing the emergency COVID funding we need to make sure our communities are able to continue getting back to normal, not back to the darkest days of this pandemic when we couldn’t get tests and when we didn’t have effective treatments and vaccines.

 

“After everything we’ve been through, it should be clear this is not the time to settle for doing too little, or acting too late.

 

“I can tell you, it’s clear to me, and it is certainly clear to the families I am hearing from back in Washington state.

 

“So I am going to keep pressing for us to get emergency funding passed as soon as possible, and get our communities everything they need to keep people safe.

 

“And I am asking my Republican colleagues to—please—consider the cost of inaction, consider what it means for our doctors and nurses, our small business owners, our high-risk family and friends, including Seniors and immunocompromised people, our educators and students if we let COVID get the better of us—because we failed to make a modest investment right now.

 

“So please let’s work together and find a path forward here.”

 

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