VIDEO: Schakowsky, Doggett, DeLauro, Van Hollen, Advocates Call for Affordable Coronavirus Vaccines & Treatments

March 6, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – This week, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, a Senior Chief Deputy Whip and Chair of the Energy and Commerce Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee, was joined by Congressman Lloyd Doggett, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, Senator Chris Van Hollen, and several advocates from the Lower Drug Prices Now coalition to call on the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to protect public health and take steps to ensure that any 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine or treatment developed with the help of taxpayer-funded research is affordable and accessible to all Americans.

“The big question now: Are we going to turn this over to the pharmaceutical companies who are going to decide if there’s enough profit in this to make sure that all consumers can get what they need?” asked Congresswoman Schakowsky. “And I say absolutely not.”

“Affordable, equal access to ALL for any treatment or vaccine for the novel coronavirus is of the utmost importance to me. My compromised immune system and my lowered lung function will not be able to fight off this novel virus, and I might die if access is denied to myself or those around me,” said Yasmin Canales, a Cystic Fibrosis patient and member of Little Lobbyists. “When the virus spreads into my community, my life and the lives of people like myself and many other children with complex medical needs, is on the line.”

“When there is a safe and effective vaccine for this virus, I want to be able to do the right thing and be vaccinated,” said Josephine Ball, Retired Maryland Registered Nurse and AFSCME Retiree Member. “But will Medicare cover it?  Will it cost too much?  No vaccine can protect us from illness if its priced out of reach… We must not let cost put off workers or retirees from doing what they should do to protect themselves and the public.”

“No matter its scientific efficacy, a coronavirus vaccine that is not affordable and accessible will not work,” said Rob Weissman, President of Public Citizen. “…That’s not just for individuals, that’s a matter of public health. With an infectious disease situation, if we’re not talking about taking care of everyone, we’re talking about taking care of no one. When Secretary Azar says he can’t worry about that—he needs to worry about the incentives for pharmaceutical companies’ R&D, he’s got it all upside down. The monopoly model does not work…for vaccines and it does not work for infectious disease. We know that because Big Pharma is not doing the work…the work has been overwhelming done by the National Institutes of Health.”

Last week, Schakowsky and Doggett were joined by 44 other House members in sending a letter to the White House about this topic. Last Wednesday, Schakowsky questioned HHS Secretary Alex Azar about this matter during his appearance before the Energy and Commerce Committee. The next day, Azar testified before the Ways & Means Committee where Doggett was able to follow-up on the subject. Following these exchanges and public backlash, Secretary Azar sent a response to Schakowsky that offered no guarantees or specifics, prompting Schakowsky to reiterate her request. Last year, Senator Van Hollen introduced the bipartisan We PAID Act of 2019 to ensure that drug companies set a reasonable price and limit annual price increases in cases where taxpayers funded the development of the drug. Congresswoman DeLauro is Chair of the House Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee; today, the President signed a $8.3 billion supplemental spending package to respond to COVID-19 that Congress passed earlier this week.