March 19, 2021
HELP Committee hearing on the federal COVID-19 response
On March 19, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) held a hearing entitled, "Examining Our COVID-19 Response: An Update from Federal Officials." The panel heard from Dr. Tony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), Dr. Peter Marks from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Dr. David Kessler from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) COVID Response, and Dr. Rochelle Walensky from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While there was bipartisan support and appreciation for the panel and their staff's work to combat the virus, there was also push back regarding recent guidance coming out of the agencies. In particular, several Republicans on the committee pushed back on the restrictive guidelines for vaccinated persons, with Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) calling it "theater" to wear a mask after vaccination, and other saying that we must reward people for getting vaccinated by allowing them to engage in additional activities. Drs. Fauci and Walensky noted the importance of being cautious and letting data drive their guidance, especially considering new variants that can change the dynamics of the virus. Several Republicans on the panel including Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) also pushed back on school guidance and indicated that new studies showing three vs. six feet of distance is sufficient should be included.
The panel addressed various questions around vaccine hesitancy and distribution, expressing the need for local partnerships and trusted messengers, in addition to specific efforts around equitable distribution. Both Chairman Patty Murray (D-WA) and Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-NC) stressed the importance of reaching underserved communities, along with other members. The panel said that equity is a major area of focus for President Biden and that initiatives including their FEMA vaccination sites, community health clinic and pharmacy partnerships, and targeted funding streams are aimed at reaching these communities.
Other issues discussed by the committee include the need for increased sequencing capacity, long haulers' issues, advanced therapeutics and next-generation mRNA vaccines, access for disabled persons, issues at the border, and more.
Additional details are available in the attached Tax Alert.
HELP Committee hearing