On Tuesday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee held a hearing on the federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic, joined by Dr. Rochelle Walensky of the CDC, Anthony Fauci of the CDC, Janet Woodcock of the FDA, and Dawn O’Connell, the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness of Response. The hearing focused on a range of issues, including the authorization of booster shots, vaccination campaigns, federal supply reserves, and sequencing of new COVID cases to identify the spread of the delta variant.
The hearing began with updates from the witnesses, who emphasized the importance improved data systems, continuing support for American PPE manufacturers, and ongoing research into the need for booster shots. As the hearing progressed, Senators took special interest in the delta variant and its ongoing impact on the federal response to the pandemic.
Senator Rosen of Nevada took a special interest in data collection, making a note of emerging data around the use of the COVID-19 vaccine not only in prevention of the disease, but also as a potential therapy for those experiencing long-haul COVID symptoms. Senator Romney took an interest in the effects of disinformation on social media platforms on vaccine hesitancy, and encouraged the witnesses to continue making data available on the safety of the vaccine for different agencies. In response, Dr. Walensky drew attention to the CDC vaccine confidence consults, which local health departments can contact for assistance with providing data-based answers to questions about vaccine safety.
Booster shots were also a frequent subject of discussion throughout the hearing, with Senator Romney asking why it is that the United States is lagging behind other countries’ research into and approval of the efficacy of booster vaccines. Questions were asked about data collection and analysis as well as the timeline along which we may expect approval of a booster shot. In response, Dr. Woodcock noted that booster shot authorization is reliant on requests for approval from vaccine manufacturers and that of the three vaccines that have been approved, only Pfizer has publicly announced plans to file for booster shot authorization.