Republican Senators Mitt Romney and Susan Collins offered two of the most direct challenges to the Trump administration and federal government’s response to the novel coronavirus pandemic during a virtual hearing Tuesday.
Utah Senator Romney questioned Coronavirus Task Force member Dr. Anthony Fauci about the validity behind President Donald Trump blaming former President Barack Obama for the lack of a coronavirus vaccine in remarks last month. Fauci debunked Trump’s claim and extended that defense to the current president as well, noting that the unprecedented process jolted the system as a whole. During the same virtual Senate hearing, Maine Senator Collins asked why so much of the decision-making from top federal government health officials is consistently unclear.
Collins expressed her concern that patients in Maine hospitals “will have little or no ability” to receive potential vaccines or therapeutic drugs like remdesivir due to the “unclear” decisions being handed down to states.
“Last week, Maine’s two largest hospital systems contacted me with questions about how this therapeutic [remdesivir] will be allocated going forward. HHS finally released a statement on Saturday about allocations going to states, interestingly, but not directly to hospitals. But once again, the decision-making behind these decisions is very unclear,” the Republican senator asked the panel of top health officials.
“I’m concerned that hospitalized patients in Maine will have little or no ability to be treated with this promising therapeutic for the foreseeable future … and no timetable has been provided,” Collins continued.
Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn replied by agreeing that an “evidence-based approach” will be needed and that states will receive direct guidelines on the application of a potential vaccine in the future.
Later in the Senate hearing, Romney, a moderate Republican who has frequently criticized the president, directly challenged Trump’s finger-pointing at the previous Obama administration for the current lack of any COVID-19 vaccine.
“My impression is that, with regards to vaccines, where I’m critical of what we have done at testing, at vaccines we’ve done a pretty darn good job of moving ahead pretty aggressively,” said Romney, offering slight praise of the federal health officials’ response.
“And yet the president said the other day that President Obama is responsible for our lack of a vaccine. Dr. Fauci, is President Obama, or by extension President Trump, did they do something that made the likelihood of creating a vaccine less likely? Are either President Trump or President Obama responsible for the fact that we don’t have a vaccine now, or in delaying it in some way?”
“No, senator. Not at all. Certainly, President Obama nor President Trump are responsible for our not having a vaccine,” Fauci responded. “We moved, as you said—because I described it in my opening statement—rather rapidly. No one has ever gone from knowing what the virus was to a phase one trial as fast as we’ve done.”