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Saturday, March 6th, 2021

House Energy and Commerce Leaders request White House COVID-19 vaccine plan

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It is past time for a national COVID-19 vaccine plan from the Trump administration, according to House Energy and Commerce Committee leaders so that the country can plan for development, manufacturing, distribution, training, and education linked to these efforts, along with broad vaccine access.

A bipartisan letter from committee leadership was dispatched to White House Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx last week, in which members warned — citing public health experts — that a vaccination campaign requires massive preparation and precise coordination. As a result, they pleaded for the development and publicization of such a plan to the greatest extent possible.

“In addition to development, manufacturing, and distribution, a comprehensive COVID-19 vaccine plan must also take into account the decisions that will be necessary related to the allocation of a vaccine,” the committee leaders wrote. “Strategies for provider engagement and public education efforts will be similarly crucial to the success of a COVID-19 vaccine plan. Given that overall vaccination rates among adults are particularly low in the United States, and that marginalized communities are less likely to have access to vaccines, these efforts cannot begin soon enough.”

In particular, they turned to testimony from Dr. Robert Kadlec, Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. Last year, in congressional testimony, Kadlec warned that the United States lacked sufficient domestic manufacturing capacity and raw materials for medical countermeasures — vaccines included.

“In a pandemic, global manufacturing capacity will likely not be sufficient to meet demand, resulting in an inability to import adequate quantities of medical countermeasures,” Kadlec said at the time. The nation’s struggle to meet COVID-19 had since proven the weight of those words.

The writers — Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Ranking Member Greg Walden (R-OR), Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chair Diana DeGette (D-CO), and Subcommittee Ranking Member Brett Guthrie (R-KY) — urged a plan that would ensure board access to any vaccine, by addressing potential barriers. The CARES Act, signed earlier this year, was the first step in this direction by guaranteeing a COVID-19 vaccine would be covered by most private health plans, Medicare Part B and Medicare Advantage, but some uncertainties remain.

The leaders requested a briefing on the White House’s Operation Warp Speed and answers to outstanding questions about planning, to be delivered by June 4.