03.09.21

At HELP Hearing, Senator Murray Spotlights Voices On the Frontlines of COVID-19 Response, Stresses Importance of Vaccine Equity In Pandemic Response

Murray emphasized how investments in testing, vaccines, and health care in the American Rescue Plan will help to end the pandemic—but that more work lies ahead

 

Murray made clear vaccine equity remains a pressing issue, and asked witnesses about how to make sure vaccines reach communities of color and people with disabilities

 

Senator Murray: “The true cost of this pandemic so far is unthinkable, and it should be just as unthinkable that we would do anything short of everything when it comes to ending this crisis as soon as possible and rebuilding our nation stronger and fairer.”

 

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

 

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Chair Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), chair of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) committee, held a hearing with clinicians, public health experts, and state health officials about the challenges of serving on the frontlines of our COVID-19 response, the importance of equitable vaccine distribution, and the steps necessary to help bring the COVID-19 pandemic to an end. Senator Murray outlined how various investments in the American Rescue Plan will be critical in helping to end the pandemic—but noted there is still critical work ahead to make vaccine distribution equitable and accessible for communities of color and the disability community and to build a stronger, fairer country that is better prepared to respond to COVID-19.

 

“The true cost of this pandemic so far is unthinkable, and it should be just as unthinkable that we would do anything short of everything when it comes to ending this crisis as soon as possible and rebuilding our nation stronger and fairer. I’m glad President Biden has put forward a bold, comprehensive vision to see our country through this pandemic, and that we took a critical step toward making that vision a reality by passing in short order the historic American Rescue Plan,” said Senator Murray in her opening remarks. “This bill represents important progress, as does President Biden’s announcement that our country will have enough vaccines for every adult by the end of May. But we are all well aware it is not ‘mission accomplished.’

 

During the hearing. Senator Murray focused on the ongoing challenge of making vaccine distribution and administration equitable for communities that are too often overlooked and underserved by the health care system. In her opening remarks and her questions to Washington Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah, Senator Murray highlighted the importance of making COVID-19 vaccine registration websites and other tools accessible to people with disabilities, people who don’t speak English, and people who do not have access to the internet or smart phones.

 

She also stressed that when it comes to vaccinating communities of color, more work needs to be done and noted the efforts of the Pacific Islander Community Association of Washington state to help make sure vaccines reach the Pacific Islander community which has struggled to access them.

 

“We have to make sure communities that are often overlooked and underserved are getting vaccines,” said Senator Murray. “We have some promising tools here—but we also still have work to do to make them accessible to people with disabilities, people who don’t speak English, and people who do not have internet or smart phones.”

 

Senator Murray also noted that there is important work ahead in bolstering our nation’s public health system—including her Public Health Infrastructure Saves Lives Act which she plans to introduce tomorrow.

 

Additionally she outlined several other challenges critical to address in order to build back stronger and fairer: “Key to this work will also be helping American workers and families recover from all impacts of the virus and the dire economic situation they face, addressing the devastating impacts of learning loss that so many children are facing and the symptoms long haulers continue to fight, and ensuring this country responds to all of the ways this pandemic will stay with us for a long time—as well as all the things we should be doing to prepare for pandemics in the future.”

 

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

 

“Life for families across the country has changed a lot over the past year, and while we are all familiar with the staggering numbers of this pandemic—over 29 million infected, over half a million dead—the full toll of that loss and so much else families have gone through—the missed birthdays, weddings, graduations, and even funerals, the fear, loss, and isolation we have gone through—individually and as a nation—and the impact that is causing on mental health and substance use, among other issues—cannot be measured.

 

“The true cost of this pandemic so far is unthinkable, and it should be just as unthinkable that we would do anything short of everything when it comes to ending this crisis as soon as possible and rebuilding our nation stronger and fairer.

 

“I’m glad President Biden has put forward a bold, comprehensive vision to see our country through this pandemic, and that we took a critical step toward making that vision a reality by passing in short order the historic American Rescue Plan which provides funding for testing, contact tracing, and sequencing so we can identify new variants of COVID and slow the spread.

 

“Funding for vaccines so we can distribute and administer them quickly, widely, and equitably, fight misinformation, promote vaccine confidence, and engage trusted partners in communities we know are hard to reach.

 

“Funding to recruit and train 100,000 new public health workers for these efforts, and funding to address inequities that have made this pandemic more deadly for communities of color, to address mental health, behavioral health, and substance use challenges this pandemic has worsened, to support home- and community-based services that help people with disabilities and older Americans, and to support community health centers which continue to be a lifeline to so many hard hit and hard to reach communities.

 

“This bill represents important progress, as does President Biden’s announcement that our country will have enough vaccines for every adult by the end of May.

 

“But we are all well aware it is not “mission accomplished.”

 

“We have to roll up our sleeves, literally and figuratively, and get vaccines in arms.

 

“We have to make sure communities that are often overlooked and underserved are getting vaccines—and getting answers to questions people are asking like: When can I get a vaccine? Where do I go for my vaccine? And how do I know the vaccines are safe and effective?

 

“We have some promising tools here—but we also still have work to do to make them accessible to people with disabilities, people who don’t speak English, and people who do not have internet or smart phones.

 

“We have skilled experts promoting vaccine confidence, but we still have to engage trusted community partners as well.

 

“In my home state of Washington, the Pacific Islander community has been hit harder than anyone by this pandemic.

 

“And while we still don’t have good data on the extent of that problem, it’s clear when it comes to vaccinating this community—we are already behind.

 

“That’s why, when Joseph Seia—executive director of the Pacific Islander Community Association of Washington state—saw how online booking for vaccines was missing elders in their community, PICA worked to set up the first-in-the-nation pop-up vaccination clinic.

 

“As Seia told the Seattle Times recently, “It’s an equity thing. People don’t have technology. People don’t have the time. It’s essentially privileged people that are signing up for these appointments, and the most impacted folks aren’t able to do it.”

 

“The clinic PICA helped set up kept things intentionally low-tech to help prioritize reaching vulnerable seniors.

 

“We need to continue seeking out community partners like that to make sure we are understanding the challenges they face and working through them together.

 

“Because this pandemic will not truly be over for anyone, until we vaccinate everyone we can.

 

“And even when it ends—we need to make sure nothing like this ever happens again.

 

“So I’ll be saying more about how we do that later this week when I reintroduce the Public Health Infrastructure Saves Lives Act.

 

“It was hard to imagine when this pandemic began a year ago, where we would be today. But the question before us in this moment is: How soon will students be back in classrooms? How soon will those people not already at work be back? How soon will we be able to safely visit friends and family for special occasions—and greet them with smiles, handshakes, and hugs?

 

“We all want to get there as soon as possible. But that starts with the work all of our witnesses are here to discuss, and the steps we take right now to support it. 

 

“I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about how we end this pandemic, and working with them to get all of our communities there.

 

“As Ranking Member Burr and I have been talking about since early in January, COVID-19 has defined this Committee’s work over the last year, and in many ways will define it for the next two years. 

 

“For all of my Committee members, hearings like this are just a beginning of our effort to look comprehensively at the impact of the pandemic we are in the middle of. 

 

“I look forward to working with Ranking Member Burr, and every member of this Committee, as we continue those efforts and work to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath.

 

“Key to this work will also be helping American workers and families recover from all impacts of the virus and the dire economic situation they face, addressing the devastating impacts of learning loss that so many children are facing—and the symptoms long haulers continue to fight, and ensuring this country responds to all of the ways this pandemic will stay with us for a long time—as well as all the things we should be doing to prepare for pandemics in the future.

 

“I know every single member of this Committee, no matter how different our politics or our states, is unified in feeling the deep loss caused by this crisis, deep gratitude to all of those on the frontlines fighting it, and the importance of responding to this moment by building a stronger, fairer, better nation for the people we represent. 

 

“I look forward to this hearing and working with all of you in the days and months ahead. Now I’ll turn it over to the ranking member, Senator Burr, for his opening remarks.”

 

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