Rosen Questions CDC Director and Dr. Fauci on COVID-19 Vaccine Outreach and Research Goals

In Her Questioning, Senator Rosen Pushed for Potential Solutions to Assist in Increasing Vaccination Rates for Senior Populations and at Long-Term Care Facilities

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, during a hearing of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV) questioned Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, about vaccine outreach for vulnerable populations and ongoing research to address COVID-19. A transcript of the Senator’s full exchange can be found below, and a video of the Senator’s full exchange can be found here. 

ROSEN: Thank you, Chair Murray and Ranking Member Burr, for holding this vitally important hearing today. And I really want to thank all of the witnesses for participating and for helping to get our country vaccinated. It is so important to every person that we know and love in our community and our personal lives that we do everything we can to save them and protect [them], and I appreciate your hard work in this regard.

And so, I just want to speak a little bit about vaccine outreach, because [in] our country, we have made tremendous progress over the past several months in making the vaccine available to most individuals, to getting shots in arms. I have had the honor of going to some of the vaccine sites, of course, clinics in my home state of Nevada. Our health care heroes, they’re pillars of strength in our communities, showing up day after day to be sure that everybody that wants a vaccine can get one. And we just can’t lose ground.

But unfortunately, [in] Nevada, our cases are growing and we seem to be getting to the top of a list nobody wants to be on in the cases of the Delta variant. I am extremely concerned about the lag in vaccination rates. In fact, last week, especially in nursing homes, Senator Cortez Masto and I sent a letter to Secretary Becerra, and raised concerns about the low reported vaccination rates in Nevada nursing homes, and we have to find a solution to protect those most vulnerable who can’t go out to a site, and even their loved ones couldn’t take them.

So, Dr. Walensky, are there any plans through CDC or in coordination with other agencies, to restart the pharmacy partner program that sent teams directly to every nursing home, perhaps for every facility with less than a 90% vaccination rate for residents and staff, and I might even say, families of staff who they go home to?

WALENSKY: Thank you for that question, Senator Rosen. We recognize this challenge, and we are with you. In fact, we have ten CDC people deployed to Nevada right now working to assist.

You know, part of the long-term plan in terms of working to vaccinate our long-term care facilities, not necessarily these staccato partnerships with the pharmacies, but to have a longitudinal plan because, in fact, especially in our long-term care facilities, there is quite a bit of turnover with the patients and we want to make sure there’s always vaccines available.

Many of these long-term care facilities have access to pharmacies, and we want to make sure that there’s vaccines actually active in the pharmacies so that they can do vaccinations when patients come in.

I agree with you and, in fact, we need to work to get our staff vaccinated as well. In fact, staff in some of these long term care facilities are 20 percent less coverage than the facilities members themselves, the residents themselves. So, we are working on confidence in those areas. But specifically, strike teams in with the long-term care facilities to assist in getting vaccine to those places, that’s not reliant on a one time, you know, mass vaccination, but really has a longitudinal plan to make sure vaccine can be available in the long term.

ROSEN: Yeah, and I would hope that you’d include the families of the staff, because oftentimes they have a high turnover too. They go home to their community, and you’re just going to keep putting out that fire over and over.

I’d like to switch now and talk a little bit about the research in vaccines, because obviously, we’re discovering more about COVID every single day, and I think for years to come, we’re going to continue to learn. And so now is the time to take those additional steps to see we don’t look back and find gaps in data that could have been prevented, those gaps that could have been prevented if we’d acted sooner, speaking of longitudinal. And so, data like this could save lives. It’s why I introduced the Ensuring Understanding of COVID-19 to Protect Public Health Act. It’s bipartisan legislation that requires long-term those longitudinal studies on a variety of COVID patient populations, with regular public reporting.

For example, some of the recent research is showing that the COVID-19 vaccine may actually help improve symptoms for some patients with long-haul COVID. So, Dr. Fauci, what do we know about this so far, and how common is a vaccine to be a strong prevention tool but also work therapeutically, in this case? And what else should we be studying?

FAUCI: Very good point, Senator. And there has been anecdotal reports of people who have been infected, have developed long COVID, and their symptoms have been improved upon getting the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine. That has not been proven under the scrutiny of a clinical trial.

So right now, we’re looking at individuals who actually have recovered and seeing if, in fact, vaccination does improve.

Right now, although the anecdotal cases suggest that, I don’t think we can say anything definitively from a scientific standpoint, but that’s something that’s being looked at.

ROSEN: Thank you.