May 07, 2020

Warren Highlights Need to Force President Trump to Use the Defense Production Act and Publicly Manufacture Medical Supplies at HELP Hearing on COVID-19 Testing

"To put it bluntly: even if we come up with vaccines or better tests, if we don't have the right supplies...then it's not going to do us any good, because we won't be able to get the job done."

Today: Warren Sent Letter to Administration to Ramp Up Efforts to Publicly Manufacture COVID-19 Medical Products

Video of Hearing Exchange (YouTube)

Washington, DC - Today, United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) questioned NIH Director Francis Collins and Acting BARDA Director Gary Disbrow about the federal government's preparedness to provide the critical, basic medical supplies like PPE, cotton swabs, reagents, and more to conduct widespread testing and eventually distribute a vaccine when it's ready. 

Senator Warren highlighted how the federal government is not prepared to rapidly produce these supplies. She called on Congress to force President Donald Trump to fully use the Defense Production Act to get private companies making what we need. She also called on Congress to pass legislation she introduced to begin publicly manufacturing personal protective equipment, prescription drugs, and other medical supplies necessary to expand testing and combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

In March, Senator Warren laid out several steps Congress should take to increase the supplies of diagnostic testing for COVID-19. 


SENATOR WARREN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. You know, three months ago America saw its first case of coronavirus. And President Trump's response has been a complete disgrace. Instead of using this time to drastically ramp up our testing supply or make an actual plan to test as many people as possible, he's dawdled, he's peddled conspiracy theories, and he's bragged on television that U.S. cases would soon be close to zero. Today, over 70,000 people are dead, 1.2 million people are infected, and 30 million people have lost their jobs. Meanwhile, America is still racing to get its testing numbers up. I showed a detailed plan for how to do it. I'm pleased that some pieces like funding to boost testing capacity and better reporting of demographic information are already law, but there's more we need to do to correct the president's failures, including using the power of the federal government to publicly manufacture testing supplies. 

So, Dr. Disbrow, you're the Acting Director of BARDA, which was set up 14 years ago to make sure that the government has life-saving drugs on hand in a crisis, even if it isn't profitable for drug companies to make those drugs on their own. Does that mean that the federal government is running drug factories all over the country with federal employees inside and on the production line? 

DR. DISBROW: Thank you for your question. No, what we do at BARDA is we partner with companies and we form these public-private partnerships to help develop life-saving medical countermeasures. Vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics. We provide funding, the companies also, in most cases, provide funding. There is a cost-share in some instances for the development of that, but we're providing the funds. And in particular, for COVID-19, the government will take the risk for developing those vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics, because we need to expedite the development of those. So no, federal employees are not inside the factories, but we do work as a true partnership with our industry partners to bring those medical countermeasures forward. 

WARREN: So thank you, Dr. Disbrow. In other words, BARDA identifies the public health threat, helps take a drug or other countermeasure from concept to reality, and then contracts with private companies to make it happen. So, in other words, uses the power of the federal government to ensure that the market produces what we need and when we need it. BARDA's already invested, as you point out, in dozens of companies, including Moderna and Hologic, both based in Massachusetts making therapeutics and vaccines and diagnostic tests to fight COVID-19. Our scientists are racing around the clock, and they're going to get it done, but coming up with these life-saving innovations isn't the only challenge we face in this area.

Dr. Collins, let's say that science delivers all of the tests we need and eventually a vaccine. What other basic medical supplies do we need to be able to actually produce and administer these tests and treatments? 

DR. COLLINS: Well again, I think we have to think about exactly what those supplies would need to be and whether that involves some kind of swab to collect the sample, to do the test, some sort of material, some sort of solution that you have to transmit it to the laboratory. All of those parts of the supply chain have to be thought about if we're going to make this as successful as it needs to be. Likewise, with vaccines, people are worried about do we have enough medical glass to be able to put all of these doses of the vaccine into vials so that they can be administered, and that's a serious issue to think about right now, even as we are anticipating, if all goes well, that such vaccines may be available in millions of doses as soon as this fall. Again, all of that requires thinking forward. 

WARREN: Alright, so thanks very much. I appreciate that, Dr. Collins. In other words, to put it bluntly: even if we come up with vaccines or better tests, if we don't have the right supplies, if we don't have enough cotton swabs, if we don't have enough reagents, if we don't have enough glass, then it's not going to do us any good, because we won't be able to get the job done. 

So let me ask this. Dr. Disbrow, is BARDA's job to supply the nation with cotton swabs and reagents? 

DISBROW: BARDA will do whatever is necessary to get the job done and protect our nation. So, your question about vaccines, so BARDA is focusing on ancillary supplies, so making the bulk vaccine, which is the liquid, is only one step. You need a vial to put the vaccine in, you need a stopper to close the vial, and you also need needles and syringes. So we are responsible for making sure that all of those ancillary supplies to develop and administer that vaccine are are taken care of. 

WARREN: So in other words, we can't just wait for the cotton swabs and the--to roll off the assembly line from the cotton swab factory. We've really got to be planning this out as Dr. Collins was saying. 

DISBROW: Correct, right. 

WARREN: I think that means that Congress should pass Senator Murphy and Senator Baldwin's bill to force the president to use every bit of his authority under the Defense Production Act and get private companies making what we need. And we can do more. 

Last week, I announced the COVID-19 Emergency Manufacturing Act. My bill establishes an Office of Manufacturing for public health. It is modeled after BARDA. This office would publicly manufacture, or enter into contracts to manufacture, everything the country needs to fight COVID-19. Swabs, reagents, masks, face shields, intubation drugs, other COVID-19 products, and to manufacture them at scale. Congress should include it in the next coronavirus relief package so that we can save lives that are still being put at risk by President Trump. 

Thank you very much.