Merkley, colleagues push Trump administration for detailed vaccine strategy

Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) are leading a group of 22 lawmakers in pushing the Trump administration to provide a detailed briefing to Congress and the American people regarding their strategy to produce and distribute a coronavirus vaccine as soon as one is available, according to a press release.

“The production and distribution of a successful COVID-19 vaccine or vaccines may be the most extensive and important public health undertaking of our lifetimes. We cannot afford to let the Administration delay it with additional missteps or leave it to chance or the whims of the market,” the senators wrote in their letter to Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Director Robert Redfield and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, Robert Kadlec. “This is a massive undertaking that requires careful planning, relentless attention to detail, and flawless execution of a national strategy, which must include making the vaccine available to all Americans for free.”

“Although a vaccine has not yet been developed, we are encouraged by the global race and clinical trials for developing a vaccine for COVID-19. However, we are concerned about the current capacity to produce, manufacture, and distribute a sufficient number of COVID-19 vaccines in addition to other vaccines, such as a seasonal influenza vaccine,” the senators continued. “A vaccine for COVID-19 is critical to protect the public health and truly get our country back up and running at full capacity once again. Given this reality, developing, producing, and administering a vaccine must be a top priority. We expect the Administration to take all necessary steps and make sound investments to ensure that anyone who is seeking or required to get a vaccine can do so immediately when a vaccine becomes available.”

Experts have noted that in addition to requiring production capacity for a vaccine, rapid distribution of a vaccine will require supply chain planning to avoid bottlenecks such as those that have plagued the effort to ramp up testing. The senators’ letter identifies a host of potential challenges to widespread vaccine production and distribution and asks for a comprehensive plan to address them. The senators requested answers to a variety of questions regarding vaccine safety, access, distribution, surveillance, manufacturing, and supplies in order to ensure that the administration is taking the bold, necessary steps to secure and distribute a vaccine as quickly as possible and not repeat the missteps and medical product supply failures that have plagued the early response to COVID-19.

Senators Merkley and Murray were joined in sending the letter by U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bob Casey (D-PA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Jack Reed (D-RI), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tina Smith (D-MN), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Dick Durbin (D-IL).