Today, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a hearing entitled “Examining Our COVID-19 Response: An Update from the Frontlines.” This is the first hearing focused on the response to the coronavirus pandemic the Committee has held this Congress.
In his prepared opening remarks, Senate HELP Committee Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-NC) underscored the critical role that state and local officials play in leading the response to the pandemic. Additionally, Ranking Member Burr urged the Committee to exercise its oversight responsibility by regularly holding COVID-19 hearings to receive updates from Administration officials on the nation’s ongoing response efforts.
WATCH: Ranking Member Burr’s opening remarks before the Senate HELP Committee’s first coronavirus pandemic hearing this year
“We must take stock of lessons learned from the response to the coronavirus pandemic and learn together to see what worked, what didn’t, and what needs to be done to be more prepared in the future.
“We should be proud of the important laws and programs and policies we have worked together to create and fund, because so much of it worked exactly as we envisioned. FDA used its emergency use authority to get vaccines and therapeutics to Americans in record time, while maintaining the gold standard of safety and efficacy. The Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response coordinated with health care providers on the ground to ensure the sharing of critical information and supplies as quickly as possible during the response… Using BARDAs authorities, Operation Warp Speed developed and scaled manufacturing for multiple vaccines in record, life-saving time.
“But we should also be humble enough to know that more needs to be done to be prepared for the future. I hope now that the partisan spending bill - that only had 5% of its funding dedicated to the public health portion of the COVID response and 1% of their massive spending bill dedicated to COVID vaccines - has passed, we can shift our attention back to working together.
“As we start this thorough review process, it is important to remember that we are still in the midst of our current response. But the tools we have today look very different than where we started over one year ago, largely because of the authority we have given the executive branch. In May of last year, some experts were predicting that a vaccine could take years – in partnership with the private sector, we did it in ten months. Testing is now widely available, with the FDA announcing just last week the emergency authorization of another test that delivers results at home, thanks to the public private partnership and leadership from the NIH…and our state and local officials have led the charge in tailoring our response to their communities’ needs, as they should.
“Alongside our successes, we must acknowledge our failures. At the beginning of the academic year, just 17 % of our nation’s schools had fully returned to in-person learning... Businesses are still closed…And, the tool we have to solve these urgent problems – a vaccine – should be reaching more Americans, faster… The CDC stated that we are averaging 2 million shots in arms per day – but this Administration has not updated its goal to reach 100 million shots in 100 days, which was already the trajectory when the President took office in January. Instead, we should set aspirational goals, like we did with the development of the vaccine, not easily attainable ones.
“When we look at where we are in the response today, the data shows a significant decline in COVID cases and hospitalizations. I share this with my colleagues, not because we should let-up on our response, but because I believe we are at the greatest moment, right now, to learn from our progress and our failures. The time to capture the lessons we are learning is now, in real time, and not months down the road when case levels are low, attention spans shorten, and urgency fades.
“I’d like to set the expectation for all of us on the committee, on both sides of the aisle, that we should expect to hear from Administration officials on a regular basis just like we did with the last Administration, if not more often. They have an obligation to be open and transparent with Congress, and the American people about what they are doing, in real time, and I know all of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will join us in that request.”
To read Ranking Member Burr’s full opening statement at today’s hearing, click here.