Federal health officials including Dr. Anthony Fauci and CDC Director Rochelle Walensky testified before House and Senate Committees this week on the COVID-19 response. Here's what was said about vaccine pricing and IP protections, vaccine hesitancy and equitable distribution, and preparing for what’s next.
On vaccine pricing: Sen. Chris Murphy (D-NY) asked about government contracts for vaccines, inquiring about whether the government is getting the best price for various vaccines and some companies’ “no-profit” pledges. Noting he’s “no defender of the pharmaceutical industry, and certainly on pricing,” White House chief science officer Dr. David Kessler stressed that the government successfully procured vaccines “at risk,”which has put us “in a very fortunate position today.”
On IP and the TRIPS agreement: Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) said developing countries including India and South Africa requested the WTO waive the TRIPS agreement, to allow them to circumvent companies’ IP rights so as to manufacture their own vaccines. Dr. Fauci pointed to the U.S. joining COVAX and committing to sharing vaccine surpluses with other countries; neither Dr. Fauci nor Dr. Walensky voiced support for waiving the TRIPS agreement.
On equitable distribution and allocation: “COVID-19 has highlighted long-standing systemic health disparities, and health equity must be a corner stone of our public health work,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. “CDC is committed to expanding evidence-based approaches to reduce disparities in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.”
On vaccine hesitancy and misinformation: Dr. Walensky noted the importance of addressing vaccine confidence “at the local level,” with support from the American Rescue Plan.
Questions about the COVID-19 vaccines? Visit www.COVIDVaccineFacts.org.
On future vaccines for COVID-19 variants: Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) asked about steps FDA will take to expedite approval of vaccines for variants, similar to the way they expedite annual influenza vaccines (starting at the 52-minute mark). Dr. Peter Marks, Director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER), said we will likely need studies for the first few changes for variants, but studies that “look at the immune response,” not “clinical outcome studies.” Once they better understand “which pathogens go with which platforms,” the process will likely become more like the process for the flu vaccine.
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