WASHINGTON–Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), Republican Leader of the Subcommittee on Health for the Committee on Ways and Means, highlighted the remarkable success of the Trump Administration-led initiative to accelerate and facilitate the aggressive development and manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines during Friday’s hearing on “The Path Forward on COVID-19 Immunizations.” He also called for greater focus on four key priorities:
- We must take the lessons learned from states who vaccination campaigns have been the most successful and apply them to other states and localities to get as many Americans vaccinated as fast as possible.
- We must improve domestic manufacturing and enhance supply chain logistics in our nation.
- President Biden must follow the recommendations of the CDC and begin safe reopenings for in-person schooling.
- We must address vaccine hesitancy and emphasize that receiving the COVID-19 vaccine is safe, effective, and will bring us closer to our goal of herd immunity and a return to “normal”
Remarks below as prepared for delivery:
Thank you, Chairman Doggett, for calling this hearing, and thank you to all six of our witnesses for being with us today. We are happy to have your expertise. Before we start, a point on process: Mr. Chairman, over the past two subcommittee hearings you’ve presided over, you’ve invited 11 witnesses to our two. On bipartisan issues like this one, I would hope that, going forward, you would allow for a more proportional ratio of witness invitations for the minority.
It is truly remarkable that less than a year after President Trump declared a national emergency in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak, we are here to discuss COVID-19 vaccines that are already being distributed and administered to the American public. We would not be in this position without the incredible efforts of Operation Warp Speed, a Trump Administration-led initiative to accelerate and facilitate the aggressive development and manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines. Due to the program’s tremendous work, the FDA has approved two double-dose vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna for COVID-19 vaccinations. Additionally, a single-dose vaccine from Johnson and Johnson could be issued emergency use authorization as soon as today, and vaccines from other companies such as AstraZeneca and NovaVax are in late phase clinical trials.
It is plausible that we could achieve herd immunity by the end of this summer and achieve our goal of crushing the COVID-19 virus and getting Americans lives back to pre-pandemic normalcy. To reach the finish line, Congress should focus on four key priorities.
First, we must take the lessons learned from states whose vaccination campaigns have been the most successful and apply them to other states and localities to get as many Americans vaccinated as fast as possible. In my home state of California, vaccine distribution has been a slow, confusing, and frustrating process. Governor Newsom’s vaccine rollout has been plagued by technical problems and glitches for vaccine distribution, and the state of California continues to lag behind many other states in overall vaccinations. Overburdened areas in Los Angeles and Central Valley, which is located in my district, are dealing with dwindling supplies and have struggled to meet overwhelming demand for the vaccine.
On the other hand, states like West Virginia have been highly successful in vaccinating their elderly and high-risk populations. Today, we will hear testimony from Dr. Clay Marsh, West Virginia’s Coronavirus Czar, on how they applied adept techniques to lead the nation in this category, such as using a COVID-19 vaccine hotline, implementing a decentralized hub and spoke model for local pharmacies to participate in vaccinating West Virginians, and crafting clear priority schemes to guide who gets vaccinated when. While each state must tailor its vaccine distribution process to meet the needs of its unique populations, our governors and local health officials should take note of what practices work best so we can vaccinate Americans as quickly as possible.
Second, given the threat of COVID-19 virus mutations, we must improve domestic manufacturing and enhance supply chain logistics in our nation. While our current available vaccines show effectiveness against these strains, manufacturers are gathering more data and preparing more booster shots to further bolster vaccine efficacy. Last October, Ways and Means Republicans introduced the Commitment to American Growth Act to incentivize American medical independence and boost our business investments into manufacturing innovation. By implementing these measures, we can reduce our dependence on China, encourage small biotech companies to boost American manufacturing, and ultimately improve public health as a result.
Third, as we ramp up our vaccine production and inoculate more Americans with COVID-19 vaccines, President Biden needs to start following the recommendations of the CDC and begin safe reopenings for in-person schooling. In a February White House press briefing, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky noted there is increasing data to suggest schools can safely reopen, regardless of whether teachers are vaccinated or not. Additional data has shown that at least 75 percent of communities in the U.S. can reopen schools without generating new COVID-19 outbreaks. By adhering to CDC protocols of mask wearing, social distancing, and improved ventilation, we can combine these efforts with wide-scale vaccinations to create a safe environment for teachers and students to swiftly return to the classroom.
Fourth and lastly, as we inch closer towards COVID-19 vaccine supply outweighing demand, we must address vaccine hesitancy and emphasize that receiving the COVID-19 vaccine is safe, effective, and will bring us closer to our goal of herd immunity and a return to “normal.” Data shows that as of January 2021, 31% of Americans still want to wait and see how the vaccine is working before taking it, while 13% of Americans say they definitely do not want to take the vaccine. In the face of concerns of the novelty of the vaccine, the potential for side effects, and the government approval process, leaders need to amplify the science that demonstrates that receiving the COVID-19 vaccine is not only safe and effective, but will reduce the threat of serious complications and illness from COVID-19 and improve our health.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I yield back.