Testimony from Alex M. Azar II on Secretary Azar's Oral Testimony before House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis
Alex M. Azar II, Secretary of Health and Human Services U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
Chairman Clyburn, Ranking Member Scalise, it is an honor to appear before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.
I wish to express my gratitude, on behalf of the Department of Health and Human Services and the Trump Administration, for the support that Congress has provided throughout this unprecedented crisis.
This morning, we wish the President and the First Lady, and every American fighting COVID-19, a swift and complete recovery.
We mourn the losses of Skylar, Cheryl, Jason, Demi, and all the other victims of COVID-19. But thanks to the heroism of so many frontline healthcare workers, scientists, and others, we are making progress.
This progress is possible in large part because of the incredible men and women at HHS—the world’s finest scientists and public health experts.
I want to say a personal thank you to each and every member of the HHS team who has contributed to this response, and I want to underscore my commitment to their work today. I started my first job at HHS nearly two decades ago. Since my first day on the job, I have recognized and promoted the value of science and evidence and the civil servants who are so dedicated to our mission.
That does not mean, especially in an unprecedented crisis, that there are no debates or disagreements within an agency or an administration. But my highest priority will always be to ensure that our efforts are science- and evidence-driven and consistent with the rule of law.
Institutions like the CDC, the FDA, and the NIH are household names and gold standards for good reason, and I intend to keep it that way.
No institution is infallible, but Americans deserve to know that the actions and communications coming out of our agencies—whether FDA approvals or CDC MMWRs or NIH guidelines—are grounded in science and evidence.
Of course, that standard also applies to authorization or approval of a COVID-19 vaccine. I will be confident that my family and I should take the vaccine, and you should be confident that you and your family should take it too, because any vaccine will have met FDA’s standards, as judged by FDA career scientists.
We are as close as we are to distributing a safe and effective vaccine because of the dedication and humanitarian spirit of America’s scientists—and because of work that began long before the whole world recognized what an unprecedented threat we faced.
Back on January 7, long before China had even admitted that human-to-human transmission was occurring, NIH researchers began vaccine development planning with Moderna.
On Saturday, January 11, the morning after the viral sequence was finally shared by Chinese researchers, NIH scientists began work on that vaccine, which entered human trials on March 16.
On February 3—with just 11 cases in the United States—BARDA began obligating flexible funds to go to private partners to support vaccine and therapeutic development.
The next day, we made our first therapeutic funding announcement, to help Regeneron develop a therapeutic from monoclonal antibodies, which is now in Phase 3 trials.
On February 25, NIH began a clinical trial for remdesivir, reporting positive results at the end of April. On May 3, we secured approximately 150,000 donated treatment courses, distributed to the hardest hit areas of the country, and later secured more than 90 percent of Gilead’s global production through September. Starting this week, remdesivir is being distributed on the commercial market because it is no longer a scarce commodity.
We built on these early efforts with Operation Warp Speed, an unprecedented mobilization of HHS, the Department of Defense, and industry to simultaneously undertake all of the tasks necessary to deliver lifesaving products to the American people. Today, we have four candidate vaccines in U.S. Phase 3 clinical trials, and industrial-scale manufacturing is underway on all six vaccines as to which we have contracted or invested.
These are extraordinary results—made possible by the men and women of HHS, by the support we have received from Congress, and by the bravery and sacrifices of the American people. Thank you, and I look forward to your questions today.