WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) today questioned Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH),and Dawn O’Connell, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR), during a Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing on the next steps of the COVID-19 response.
Senator Tuberville emphasized the importance of an “all of the above” strategy to combat COVID, including the use of therapeutics like monoclonal antibody treatments. He pointed out the hypocrisy in the Biden administration’s handling of congressionally-appropriated COVID funds for these treatments. The senator went on to question the United States’ involvement with medical research in Chinese labs, and Dr. Fauci agreed that if China had been more transparent during the beginning of the pandemic, the U.S. and the world would not be in the state it is now.
Excerpts from Senator Tuberville’s remarks can be found below, and the full speech can be viewed here.
ON FUNDING FOR MONOCLONAL ANTIBODIES
TUBERVILLE: “John Hopkins University just made a report last week that this year we’ve lost 353,000 people. And to this point– last year, that’s how much we lost the entire year. It’s a little perplexing that, you know, we’ve got two vaccines boosters, and we got masks and all that. I recently wrote an op-ed talking about how we need an all-above approach. We need every tool in the toolbox to be used. We’ve been talking to doctors all over Alabama. We’ve had a tough problem. They’re very upset that they don’t have the freedom to treat like they should have the freedom to treat.”
“Congress gave money through the CARES Act to help with development of production of therapeutics. Within three months of being in office, President Biden’s administration decided not to buy, or they declined to exercise contract options on monoclonal antibodies, and I know you weren’t there at the time. They inherited these contracts from the Trump Administration. Those decisions caused a shortage, especially for us in Alabama. At the same time, the Biden administration was ramping [down] monoclonal production as we’re trying to get back to it, HHS turned and gave a hundred and forty-two million-dollar non-compete contract to an accounting firm to market these treatments to the public. The administration hired KPMG to promote a therapeutic that the government stopped buying. That makes no sense.”
“I understand that HHS is currently reviewing this. I just would hope that you would commit to reprogramming some of that money to monoclonals if there’s any left. Could I get a commitment on you for that?”
O’CONNELL: “We have seen a change in the monoclonal landscape. When the Aspa Therapeutics team began looking at the distribution models in February, a lot different than we experienced during the Delta surge. Twenty-fold increase in demand for monoclonals, and we went to a state distribution system. And, so you’re absolutely right. It’s time to re-evaluate whether we need this distribution help to get to the harder hit communities, and that review is under way right now. I’m expecting a memo any day with the team’s recommendations on whether to keep that funding going.”
ON CHINESE MEDICAL RESEARCH
TUBERVILLE: “What kind of biological research is China actually conducting as we speak that we know of?”
FAUCI: “We are not funding the Wuhan Institute anymore. That’s for sure, but I can’t testify to the scope of research that goes on beyond what the NIH funds.”
TUBERVILLE: “Are you communicating with them though, somehow, some way with China?”
FAUCI: “Well, yeah, we communicate a lot with them. Certainly, there’s been a lot of stress and strain right now when you talk about the Wuhan situation, but our colleagues in Shanghai, our colleagues in Beijing–We communicate with them all the time. The Chinese have a very, very fine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention modeled against our own CDC. And our CDC is in very good collaboration and cooperation with them.”
TUBERVILLE: “I just think that they didn’t let us in early that we may have not been in this situation–maybe the world–in this situation we’re in. I hope you would agree with that, and they just kind of shut us off.”
FAUCI: “No, absolutely. And we want to find all the information we can, and the NIH and the entire HHS has been very much in favor of all transparency and getting to know all the information of what’s going on in China. We are all very much in favor of that. We want more transparency.”
Senator Tommy Tuberville represents Alabama in the United States Senate and is a member of the Senate Armed Services, Agriculture, Veterans’ Affairs, and HELP Committees.