On April 15, the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis held the hearing, “Reaching The Light At The End of The Tunnel: A Science-Driven Approach to Swiftly and Safely Ending the Pandemic.”
Health officials testifying before Congress were:
- Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, MPH
Director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- Anthony S. Fauci, MD
Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), National Institute of Health (NIH)
- David Kessler, MD
Chief Science Officer, COVID Response, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
The subcommittee hearing —presided over by Chair Jim Clyburn (D-SC)— brought top government health officials to testify before lawmakers on the recent developments of the pandemic. Much of the three-hour hearing devolved into partisan debates over mask-wearing, school re-openings, and the recent surge of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. Regardless, the health officials provided some encouraging, yet cautious updates on the health crisis.
Dr. Fauci testified that the speedy development of the vaccines was due to the years of pre-clinical and clinical research on vaccine platforms, as well as the quick conversion of clinical trial networks, intended for HIV and influenza, for COVID-19 vaccine development.
Dr. Fauci also testified that the current effectiveness of the vaccines in real-world settings has been greater than the efficacy found in clinical trials. Dr. Fauci remained cautious on his praise of this encouraging news, noting that challenges remain with the emerging variants, particularly the UK variant B.1.1.7. Dr. Fauci assured lawmakers that the B.1.1.7 variant is well-covered by currently authorized mRNA vaccines, but more data is needed for greater assurance. Dr. Fauci ended his testimony with cautious optimism, noting that the nation is “in a race between vaccinating people and the threat of the resurgence of viruses,” noting that many states are experiencing increases in cases, with the nation averaging 60,000 cases per day.
Dr. Walensky echoed Dr. Fauci’s testimony during her opening statement, noting that although the nation has seen an incredible scientific development, the public must remain vigilant in adhering to prevention methods. Dr. Walensky stated that public health officials are getting vaccines into arms “quickly, safely, and equitably.”
During her testimony, Dr. Walensky also touched upon the recent concerns over the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, noting that the CDC and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a pause on the vaccine, while the agencies continue to monitor and provide transparent updates on the recent development of adverse reactions. Dr. Walensky also testified that the CDC will continue to work with federal, local, state, and tribal governments to build trust in the vaccine.
Dr. Walensky also testified to the systemic inequities exacerbated by the pandemic, noting CDC’s recent declaration of racism as a public health crisis. Dr. Walensky closed her testimony by calling for sustained investment in public health infrastructure “to be better prepared for whatever comes next.” NACCHO has been a strong advocate to Congress for sustained investments in public health infrastructure and is currently working with lawmakers on bolstering the public health workforce.
During his testimony Dr. Kessler noted that the “United States is in a special position,” as 194 million doses have been administered, and over 79% of people over 65 are partially vaccinated, with 60% of the same cohort fully vaccinated. Dr. Kessler touched upon the recent issues with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, adding that nothing “should detract from the fact that Americans need to get vaccinated.”