Two House Energy and Commerce subcommittees held back-to-back hearings over two days to examine ongoing challenges with distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and other elements of the nation’s response to the pandemic.
In the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee hearing on Feb. 2 and the Health Subcommittee hearing on Feb. 3, witnesses described the need to increase supplies of the COVID-19 vaccines being delivered to jurisdictions across the country. The testimony at both hearings aligned with observations and recommendations the AAMC shared in a statement submitted for the record ahead of the Feb. 3 discussion.
West Virginia University Vice President and Executive Dean for Health Sciences Clay Marsh, MD, who was appointed the state’s coronavirus czar by the governor, joined health officials from four other states at the Feb. 2 hearing in describing the challenges that limited supplies are posing. Despite the limitations, however, Marsh testified that West Virginia has been able to administer 83% of doses allotted to the state, including being the first state to complete second dose vaccinations of nursing home and assisted living residents and staff.
The five state officials also urged lawmakers to work quickly to fund a wide array of ongoing needs, including funding for state and local governments, vaccine outreach, and other priorities included in President Joe Biden’s “American Rescue Plan” proposal [Washington Highlights, Jan. 15].
During the Health Subcommittee hearing, public health leaders who previously had served at the Department of Health and Human Services and in other roles, echoed the need for additional investment. They highlighted targeted efforts to reach high-risk, hard-to-reach, and other marginalized populations among the priorities to promote more equitable vaccine distribution.
The need to diversify options along the nation’s supply chain and increase domestic manufacturing capacity for personal protective equipment, testing, and other supplies also resonated with members of the subcommittee.
Lawmakers also expressed concern about incompatible, underfunded data systems at the state and federal levels and the corresponding inability to evaluate data by race, ethnicity, and other demographic factors. Health Subcommittee Chair Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) indicated the data and infrastructure challenges are an area that the subcommittee should explore further.