09.09.20

Murray Calls for Transparency to Ensure President Trump’s Political Interference Doesn’t Derail COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

At HELP hearing on vaccines, Murray calls for public health experts to explain how they will resist political interference from President Trump

 

Murray spelled out steps FDA and CDC should take to be transparent about the development and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines

 

Murray continued pushing for comprehensive, national vaccines plan, like she called for in her vaccines white paper

 

Murray sent letters to Secretary Azar and FDA Commissioner Hahn last week warning against political interference after recent Trump Administration efforts to pressure public health officials

 

Murray: “ Unfortunately, instead of… fighting the pandemic, President Trump is fighting public health experts. Instead of supporting facts and science, he’s supporting conspiracies.”

 

***Watch Senator Murray’s Opening Remarks HERE***

 

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, at a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing on vaccines, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), ranking member of the Committee, spoke about the urgent need for action to combat political interference in the COVID-19 response in light of recent Trump Administration efforts to pressure public health officials. In her opening remarks, Senator Murray criticized President Trump for undermining and attacking public health experts with lies, inaccuracies, and conspiracy theories—even as the death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic passes 190,000 and families across the country look to the federal government for science-based leadership.

 

“Unfortunately, instead of leading us in the war against this virus and fighting the pandemic, President Trump is fighting public health experts. Instead of supporting facts and science, he’s supporting conspiracies. He has spread absurd, false theories about FDA officials being ‘deep state’ agents, and CDC overstating the death toll. He has promoted unproven treatments and junk science. He has called for less testing which he blamed for the rising number of COVID-19 cases, wrongly claimed kids aren’t likely to get or transmit the virus, and repeatedly insisted that this will all just go away,” said Senator Murray. “The list of inaccuracies and outright lies—at a time when truth is a matter of life and death—goes on and on.”

 

Senator Murray made clear that ignoring the dangers of political interference presents particular risks in regard to the nation’s efforts to develop, distribute, and administer a safe, effective, and trusted vaccine. Accordingly, she expressed her frustration that despite her request to the Chairman, and despite the critical roles the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) play in vaccine development and distribution, FDA Commissioner Dr. Hahn, and CDC Director Dr. Redfield were not invited to testify.

 

“When it comes to a COVID-19 vaccine, we can’t allow President Trump to repeat his alarming pattern of putting politics ahead of science and public health. FDA scientists’ efforts to ensure the safety and efficacy of vaccines must not be undermined by political meddling. CDC’s role in distributing a vaccine, and prioritizing who receives the first doses, must not be supplanted by politicians, campaign strategists, or corporate lobbyists. And if we are going to begin to turn the page on this pandemic, people across the country must not have any doubt in this process or its final product.”

 

Senator Murray stressed the importance of transparency “from top to bottom,” in order to hold the Trump Administration accountable for political interference. She called for FDA to issue an official guidance with standards for granting any vaccine an emergency use authorization—including standards for the independent review of phase III data—for the agency to wait for the completion of phase III clinical trials before moving on any candidates, and for it to commit to making public any data used to greenlight a vaccine. She also pressed for CDC to be transparent about how it plans to handle distribution and who will get priority when the first doses are available, and for Operation Warp Speed to be transparent regarding its contracts and efforts to address potential conflicts of interests.

 

Senator Murray also once again called for a comprehensive, national vaccines plan, as she laid out in her white paper on COVID-19 vaccines earlier this year, to avoid the missteps the nation saw with testing and to ensure safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines are widely and equitably distributed.

 

Watch Senator Murray’s opening remarks HERE.

 

Full text of Senator Murray’s remarks below.

 

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

 

“While you still have a few months left—as well as a few more hearings—I want to start off by saluting you for your many years of service to this country, including as a Senator and Chairman of this Committee. I know my Democratic colleagues and I will miss you next year.  

 

“On the topic of today’s hearing—Mr. Chairman, our country is in the middle of a painful crisis.

 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has crowded hospital intensive care units, emptied schools, and shuttered businesses.

 

“It has deepened damaging health disparities among Black, Latino, and Tribal communities, people with low-incomes, and people with disabilities.

 

“It has ravaged prisons, nursing homes, and other congregate care facilities.

“It has strained our economy, our mental health, and so much more.

 

“It has claimed around 190,000 lives so far, and claims more each day.

 

“Unfortunately, instead of leading us in the war against this virus and fighting the pandemic, President Trump is fighting public health experts. Instead of supporting facts and science, he’s supporting conspiracies.

 

“He has spread absurd, false theories about FDA officials being ‘deep state’ agents, and CDC overstating the death toll. He has promoted unproven treatments and junk science. He has called for less testing which he blamed for the rising number of COVID-19 cases, wrongly claimed kids aren’t likely to get or transmit the virus, and repeatedly insisted that this will all just go away.

 

“The list of inaccuracies and outright lies—at a time when truth is a matter of life and death—goes on and on. 

 

“And unfortunately, President Trump is not alone in his deeply flawed response.

 

“In July, after months of delay and inaction, Republicans put forward a proposal that didn’t even come close to addressing the harsh realities of this pandemic. Now, we are hearing their new plan is to force a vote on a proposal that does even less.

 

“I hope instead, Republicans sit down with Democrats to work on a package that helps our economy and keeps American families safe. A package that actually increases testing, and access to health care, actually supports schools and addresses the child care crisis, actually protects workers, and—most relevant to our hearing today—that helps ensure we get  safe, effective, trusted vaccines, that are widely and equitably distributed and administered.

 

“Vaccines have long been a critical public health tool, and even before this crisis, it was important we encourage uptake of flu vaccines each year to keep people safe, ensure vaccines are available and administered to kids across the nation, including through efforts like the Vaccines For Children program, and build vaccine confidence while combatting misinformation. But this pandemic has made these challenges more urgent than ever.

 

“So I’m glad we have Surgeon General Dr. Adams, and NIH Director Dr. Collins here to share their expertise.

 

“But I’m also frustrated that despite my request to the Chairman, FDA Commissioner Dr. Hahn, and CDC Director Dr. Redfield were not invited to testify today. These agencies play critical roles in developing and distributing vaccines and should absolutely be here today.

 

“Hearing from them is even more urgent in light of recent political interference. By waiting to bring them before the Committee we are losing valuable time to avoid costly mistakes.

 

“In the past few weeks, we’ve not only watched President Trump directly promote conspiracies about FDA and CDC, we’ve also seen reports that he exerted political pressure on FDA to issue an emergency use authorization for convalescent plasma, and on CDC which changed testing guidelines to be more restrictive—with no justification and running counter to the consensus of public health experts from across the country.

“And these aren’t the first reports of political interference—the Trump Administration has previously promoted unproven treatments like hydroxychloroquine and blocked CDC guidance for community reopening.

 

“Recently, FDA Commissioner Hahn announced he was prepared to authorize a COVID-19 vaccine before Phase III trials were complete—but without providing any guidance about when that would be appropriate.

 

“When it comes to a COVID-19 vaccine, we can’t allow President Trump to repeat his alarming pattern of putting politics ahead of science and public health.

 

“FDA scientists’ efforts to ensure the safety and efficacy of vaccines must not be undermined by political meddling.

 

“CDC’s role in distributing a vaccine, and prioritizing who receives the first doses, must not be supplanted by politicians, campaign strategists, or corporate lobbyists.

 

“And if we are going to begin to turn the page on this pandemic, people across the country must not have any doubt in this process or its final product.

 

“Which is why we need to hear directly, and immediately, from our public health agencies about how they will prevent political interference. And why we need to push for the transparency required to hold this Administration accountable.

 

“We need the FDA to be transparent by issuing an official guidance with standards for granting any vaccine an emergency use authorization, including standards for the independent review of phase III data; by waiting for the completion of phase III clinical trials before moving on any candidates; and by committing to make public any data used to green light a vaccine.

 

“We need transparency from CDC about how it plans to handle distribution, how its experts will drive the process, despite the ill-advised decision to have DoD, rather than CDC, lead much of this effort, and who will get priority when the first doses are available.

 

“We also need transparency on Operation Warp Speed’s contracts and how it is addressing any potential conflicts of interests.

 

“In short, we need transparency from top to bottom.

 

“And of course, in addition to transparency, we still need a comprehensive national vaccines plan—one of several steps I called for in the vaccines white paper I put out on vaccines months ago.

“We have seen with testing how many problems the Trump Administration caused by throwing up its hands, refusing to develop a plan, and leaving states to fend for themselves.

 

“Testing is an ongoing catastrophe and we can’t risk a repeat performance when it comes to vaccines. The Administration must develop an end-to-end national vaccines plan that addresses how we make sure vaccines are safe and effective; how we produce, distribute, and administer hundreds of millions of doses; how we alleviate rather than deepen health disparities; how we overcome barriers to access like cost and proximity to providers; and how we promote vaccine confidence and fight misinformation—especially when there is so much misinformation coming from the President of the United States.

 

“Developing and distributing safe, effective vaccines is a huge undertaking, and one that cannot be accomplished without strong, science-driven leadership from the federal government.

 

“So I’m glad we have this opportunity to discuss the important challenges that lie ahead—but there are so many more questions we need to answer, and so many more witnesses we need to hear from.

 

“And I’m absolutely going to keep pushing to make sure that happens. Thank you.”

 

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