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BioCommunique Article

Anthony Fauci, Commissioner Hahn, Robert Redfield, and Brett Giroir were also questioned on vaccine development and current outbreaks seen across the country.

House E&C Committee Examines the Administration’s Response to COVID-19

  • 2020-06-24T19:00:00.000+0000
  • Washington DC
  • Author: Brittany Blocker

This week, the Committee on Energy and Commerce held a hearing to discuss the administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Top public health officials including Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID); Stephen Hahn, Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA); Robert Redfield, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); and Brett Giroir, Assistant Secretary of Health for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) testified on their agencies’ efforts to address the crisis.

To date, more than 2.2 million Americans have contracted COVID-19, and 120,000 have died. Chairman Frank Pallone opened the hearing by addressing the administration’s “sluggish” initial response and the impact of the pandemic on minority and low-income communities. He also emphasized the need to improve testing, accelerate vaccine development while ensuring safety and efficacy, and prepare the nation’s supply chain with the necessary products to administer the vaccine.

Redfield testified that overall case counts are declining but several communities are seeing increased cases driven by multiple factors including increased testing outbreaks and evidence of community transmission. He encourages people to continue to practice social distancing and use face coverings and hand hygiene to contain transmission. In addition to these practices, readily available testing, comprehensive timely contact tracing, timely isolation of known cases, and self-quarantine will also help break the chains of transmission.

A recent CDC study examined more than 1.3 million COVID-19 cases and found that the most underlying health conditions were cardiovascular, diabetes, obesity, and chronic lung disease. The study also found hospitalizations were six times higher for these individuals and death rates were 12 times higher than those reporting these conditions compared to those without. The CDC is also working to ensure equity and health outcomes are being addressed through the COVID-19 response.

NIH is using a four-pronged approach to address the pandemic. The first prong is to study the fundamental knowledge of the virus and the host response to the virus. The second prong is on developing diagnostics and assays. The third is to characterize and test therapeutics. Lastly, the NIH will work to develop safe and effective vaccines. Fauci shared that several vaccines are moving along at various paces and one will enter phase three study in July.

HHS is implementing a phased approach to meet the testing needs at each stage of the pandemic, especially during the reopening phase. To date, the nation has performed over 27 million COVID-19 tests and averaging 500,000 tests per day. Giroir estimates that the nation will perform 40 to 50 million tests per month by fall.

The FDA has issued more than 100 emergency use authorizations for diagnostics, personal protective equipment, ventilators, and other devices as well as for drug products. Additionally, the agency has issued over 50 guidance documents on new initiatives to accelerate the development of needed products and to help ensure the continuity of healthcare and safe food supply. Hahn also announced the FDA is on target to meet user fee goals despite the increased workload during the pandemic.

Giroir explained that increasing testing is the only way to understand who has the disease, who is infected and can pass it, and how to conduct appropriate contact tracing. Fauci reiterated even more widespread testing on a surveillance basis is essential to get a full understanding of the penetrance of COVID-19, particularly among asymptomatic individuals.

The committee questioned the panelists on the possibility of co-circulation of influenza A and B as well as COVID-19. To simplify the diagnosis, the CDC is developing a new test to simultaneously detect both strains of influenza and COVID-19.

Rep. Kinzinger asked about the benefits of an antibody test from an individual patient perspective. Redfield explained that although the agency does not know what the antibody tests mean in terms of immunity, they are valuable to conduct surveillance.

On vaccine development, Hahn stated that the agency is working with sponsors and providing technical assistance regarding trial design, the number of participants in the clinical trials, as well as the endpoints to make an adjudication about safety and effectiveness. He emphasized that the agency is not cutting corners with respect to the assessment of safety and effectiveness.

In regards to the distribution of a vaccine or treatment, Redfield shared that it's a critical issue that is currently under discussion within the team to look at what the appropriate prioritization for distribution is. He explains it may be very dependent on what the product is, each of these vaccine products that are currently being developed may have differential utilization for different populations.

The committee also asked if there is an adequate supply of personal protective equipment (PPE). Giroir explained that there was an absolute shortage of everything at the beginning of the pandemic. Between March 1st and June 19th, the government distributed, or enabled the commercial distribution through the air bridge, of 160 million N95 masks, 638 million surgical and procedural masks, 281 million gowns, and over 16 billion pairs of gloves. Domestic manufacturing is ramping up which will put the US in a much better position.