MURPHY: WE MUST START PREPARING FOR THE NEXT PANDEMIC IMMEDIATELY

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) on Tuesday questioned health officials at a U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing titled: COVID-19: Lessons Learned to Prepare for the Next Pandemic. At the hearing, Murphy pressed former CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding, and Michigan’s Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, on the Trump administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for the U.S. to join the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).

On the dynamic between the Trump administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) trying to fight this virus, Murphy said: “…CDC is trying to do good work here. They are sending out regular guidance on the importance, for instance, of wearing masks as maybe the most evidence based method of preventing the spread of this disease. The President of the United States refuses to wear a mask. His top advisors refuse to wear masks. He says it's an attack on him politically, for people to wear masks. The CDC develops guidance for individual industries and businesses to reopen. The White House then prevents that guidance from being dispensed to states because the White House doesn't want to take responsibility for the decisions made to reopen the country.”

On the need to be part of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Murphy said: “It is pandemic response malpractice for the United States not to be part of CEPI. All of our allies, all of our friends are part of this organization. And while we hope that it's our funding and our domestic programs to develop a vaccine, if it's a CEPI partner that develops the vaccine, we want to be at that table. That's something we can do right now.”

On preparing for the next pandemic ahead of beating the one currently going on, Murphy said: “I've argued from the beginning that you can't wait for the next pandemic to hit us in order to get ready. But we have not beat this pandemic. On Sunday, there were 183,000 new cases reported globally. That was the highest number cases on any single day since the beginning of this pandemic, and that was Sunday. That was Sunday. And we are going to break for a very nice July 4th recess for Members of Congress who still have jobs, who are largely still healthy, without having passed any legislation to try to help states, help local public health districts address an epidemic that is still present. We need to be able to do both.”

Murphy introduced the Global Health Security and Diplomacy Act (GHSDA) with Senators Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) to authorize $3 billion toward rebuilding our country’s pandemic defense system, investing in global vaccine efforts, and helping countries with weak health systems build up their capacity to combat infectious diseases from spreading. 

Murphy also co-authored the Medical Supply Chain Transparency and Delivery Act with Senator Baldwin (D-Wisc.), which would federalize and add critical oversight and transparency to the supply chain for essential medical supplies and equipment.

Full transcript of Murphy’s questioning is below:

MURPHY: “Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Thank you to all of our witnesses.

“Senator Cassidy knows the high regard in which I hold him and he is not wrong that there needs to be reform at the CDC going forward and an admission of the ways in which they didn't measure up.

“But let's just be 100% clear here, that CDC is trying to do good work here. They are sending out regular guidance on the importance, for instance, of wearing masks as maybe the most evidence-based method of preventing the spread of this disease. The President of the United States refuses to wear a mask. His top advisors refuse to wear masks. He says it's an attack on him politically, for people to wear masks. The CDC develops guidance for individual industries and businesses to reopen. The White House then prevents that guidance from being dispensed to states because the White House doesn't want to take responsibility for the decisions made to reopen the country.

“And so I think the CDC needs to do some hard looking internally. But I also think that they have been prevented from doing the best work they could by this administration and this president.

“I appreciate the focus of this hearing moving forward. But you know, any good fire department that has a house on fire, and a house next door that's in danger of catching on fire, does both.

“They put out the fire at the house that is engulfed in flames, and they try to do work next door to prevent the next house from catching fire. We're not doing both in the Senate right now. We're holding a hearing on getting ready for the next pandemic and we are not taking up any legislation this work period in order to address the existing pandemic.

“So I want to frankly, direct some of my questions to our witnesses with respect to what we could be doing now, which I think also probably is part of the conversation about what to do moving forward.

“Dr. Gerberding, you referenced how important it was for us to join the international vaccine efforts. CEPI, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, is a multinational public/private sector collaboration to develop a vaccine for COVID-19. It's also working on other vaccines as well.

“I agree with you, we should join CEPI as a mechanism to get ready for the next pandemic. But we should join CEPI right now. Correct? There's no reason to wait especially given that they are doing most of their work as we speak on a vaccine for COVID-19.”

GERBERDING: “I completely agree with you, Senator.”

MURPHY: “And just underscore why that's important. Why is it important for us to be in CEPI right now as they develop a COVID-19 vaccine?”

GERBERDING: “Well, CEPI is already funding many biopharmaceutical entities that are working on vaccines. So they've already reviewed and invested. But they also are positioned uniquely right now on a global basis to help adjudicate the allocation and the planning for how we're going to solve this global problem, because we are not safe until everyone is safe.

“And that means we have to be thinking about vaccines in the billions of doses, not in the hundreds of millions of doses. So right now, CEPI is probably the leading organization, together with many other partners, to provide the credibility and the scientific oversight to try to make sure we do that right.”

MURPHY: “It is pandemic response malpractice for the United States not to be part of CEPI. All of our allies, all of our friends are part of this organization. And while we hope that it's our funding and our domestic programs that develop a vaccine, if it's a CEPI partner that develops the vaccine, we want to be at that table. That's something we can do right now.

“Dr. Khaldun, we talked about little bit about supply chain and what we do moving forward to try to prevent the problems that happened this time around. But in my state, the supply chain crisis isn't history, it's present. We still can't get PPE at our nursing homes.

“I was just at a hospital testing site last week, and they don't have enough cartridges to be able to do their turnaround tests.

“I just want to be clear. Dr. Khaldun, the supply chain crisis isn't fixed, is it?”

KHALDUN: “That is correct. We still in our state have lab capacity to be able to do at least twice as many labs as we're doing now. But we are limited by the number of swabs and reagents. So that is absolutely still a challenge.”

MURPHY: “So I think this discussion is really important. And I've argued from the beginning that you can't wait for the next pandemic to hit us in order to get ready. But we have not beat this pandemic. On Sunday, there were 183,000 new cases reported globally.

“That was the highest number cases on any single day since the beginning of this pandemic, and that was Sunday. That was Sunday. And we are going to break for a very nice July 4th recess for Members of Congress who still have jobs, who are largely still healthy, without having passed any legislation to try to help states, help local public health districts address an epidemic that is still present. We need to be able to do both.

“And my worry, Mr. Chairman, is that we are not at least during this work period. Thanks for the opportunity to ask questions.”

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