White House COVID-19 Task Force Provides an Update on the Federal Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic
Vaccine Development, Testing and Contact Tracing
As communities in Alaska and across the country work to address the health and financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) participated in a Senate HELP Committee hearing focused on the COVID-19 federal response. The hearing included information on testing, data collection and vaccine development, and how the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has used funding provided by Congress to support state, territorial, tribal, and local public health capacity. The witnesses testifying in the hearing provided an update on recent actions to address supply chain needs and accelerate the research, development, and manufacturing scale-up of COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines, as well as plans for the distribution of vaccines.
Expert witnesses included: CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health, FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn, and Admiral Brett Giroir of HHS.
Recently, a CDC team deployed to Anchorage, Alaska to assist the Anchorage Health Department with responding to a COVID-19 outbreak within the population experiencing homelessness. Senator Murkowski began her opening remarks thanking the CDC for their swift response in helping Alaskans address this issue and for the agency’s continued effort assisting Alaska’s state and local public health departments during COVID-19.
Murkowski asked Dr. Redfield for additional clarity on how the first allocation of the COVID-19 vaccine will be determined, whether the tribal health system receives its own allocation, and how critical populations will be defined within the federal distribution plan.
“When we talk about critical populations, it’s my understanding that the first phase is going to be allocated based on targeting these critical populations. Well in Alaska we have about 1 quarter of our population as Alaska Native that could be determined to be “critical population”. And then further we need additional guidance on who qualifies as a healthcare worker?” said Senator Murkowski. “In our state, our community health aides are some of those frontline workers. Can you help me with further clarification for the state’s proposed plan on this guidance in terms of allocation and defining critical populations?”
Dr. Redfield emphasized that he understands the importance of clear communication regarding the allocation of the vaccine. He said that definitive answers regarding the first allocation will depend on which vaccine is used and what the data says. He further noted that while the CDC’s Advisory Committee of Immunization Practices (ACIP) will give recommendations on the allocation, the final decision will likely be made by the Operation Warp Speed (OWS).
“We are currently going to see the plans as you know from each of the states on how they propose to allocate. The prioritization of how this vaccine will be distributed is based on which vaccine and what the data says, but that decision ultimately the recommendation will be Advisory Committee of Immunization Practices that will give that recommendation once they know which vaccine they will be recommending it for,” said Dr. Redfield.
Senator Murkowski finished her line of questioning for Dr. Redfield by asking him how the Administration plans to support states that lack the necessary health IT infrastructure to meet the proposed reporting requirements for the new vaccine.
“We’ve talked before about the public health IT infrastructure. I think we recognize that certainly in a state like mine, it’s been tough when you are faxing, literally faxing the results, of your COVID tests. And it’s not just Alaska, the state of California, it’s a mess out there,” said Senator Murkowski. “What is the administration’s plan to ensure that states have the support that they need for the requirements on reporting for this new vaccine? Because we’re concerned in our state that we’re not prepared for the level of reporting that will be required – we don’t mind the reporting, but we’re not – we do not have the infrastructure if you will, on the health IT side.”
Dr. Redfield added that there are additional plans within the Operation Warp Speed to augment IT capacity where there are gaps, and that the CDC recently released $200 million dollars for states to develop their COVID-19 vaccine distribution plans.
- On September 10, Senator Murkowski joined a Senate HELP Committee hearing on COVID-19 vaccinations, specifically on how developing a safe, effective vaccine will require increased public confidence and transparency.
- On June 30, Senator Murkowski took part in a Senate HELP Committee hearing focused on how to safely return to work and back to school.
- On June 24, Senator Murkowski participated in a Senate HELP Committee hearing focused on lessons learned from the COVID-19 response thus far, and the actions Congress should take to improve U.S. pandemic preparedness and response capabilities.
- On June 17, Murkowski joined a Senate HELP Committee hearing focused on telehealth services and the lessons learned from the pandemic regarding this form of health care delivery.
- On June 10, Senator Murkowski participated in a Senate HELP Committee hearing on going back to school safely for K-12, with a focus on ensuring all students receive the academic, technological, health, and social-emotional support they need to succeed. The hearing also focused on addressing the needs of homeless students.
- On June 4, Senator Murkowski took part in the Senate HELP hearing on going back to college safely during COVID which focused on how institutions of higher education are preparing for students, faculty, and staff to return to campus this fall.
- On May 12, Murkowski joined the Senate HELP Committee for a hearing titled “COVID-19: Safely Getting Back to Work and Back to School.” The hearing focused on how U.S. Department of Health and Human Services agencies are working to help states and communities prepare to reopen in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, including efforts to increase testing, accelerate research, develop treatments and vaccines, and provide public health and safety guidance.
- On May 7, the Senate HELP Committee held a hearing titled “Shark Tank: New Tests for COVID-19.” The hearing focused on the current status of testing for the COVID-19 virus and how the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) are working to support the rapid development of new tests for COVID-19, through the NIH Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) Initiative and other programs.
COVID-19 SAFETY NOTICE:
In accordance with the U.S. Senate’s Attending Physician and the U.S. Senate Sergeant at Arms, in consultation with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Senate hearings have enacted the following adjustments to help ensure the health and safety of all participants during the COVID-19 pandemic: Members were seated six feet apart to respect social distancing guidelines; Participants were given the option to take part in the hearing by video conference; To maintain social distancing, very limited seating was accommodated; Members wore masks to and from the hearing room, but were allowed to remove masks during the hearing, if they chose to do so, as they were seated 6 feet from other members.