Lawmakers press HHS for answers on coronavirus drug distribution

Lawmakers are asking the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to explain how it is handling remdesivir, a drug shown to be a potential treatment for COVID-19, after Axios reported that mass confusion within the administration hampered its distribution.

Gilead Sciences, the company that produces remdesivir, donated 1.5 million doses of the drug to the federal government after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) fast-tracked its authorization as an emergency treatment for areas where hospitals are experiencing large coronavirus patient counts.  

However, internal errors reportedly caused by the use of outdated COVID-19 statistics resulted in thousands of the doses going to “less impacted counties” while others were unable to obtain any. 

HHS Secretary Alex Azar has sought to distance himself from the mistake, according to Axios, even though one of his top officials, Robert Kadlec, the HHS assistant secretary for Preparedness and Response, was directly involved with distribution. 

Massachusetts Democrats Sens. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Senators urge White House to keep ethanol requirement | Warren opposes oil industry ‘bailout’ | New group launched to monitor major electric company The Hill’s Coronavirus Report: Chef José Andrés says most political leaders today are not acting with urgency; Dems crafting ‘Rooseveltian’ relief package Warren says oil industry should not receive coronavirus ‘bailout’ MORE and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenBarr says it was ‘duty’ to drop Flynn case: ‘It upheld the rule of law’ OVENIGHT DEFENSE: Navy secretary nominee: Service in ‘rough waters’ after ‘failure of leadership’| Senate fails to override Trump’s Iran war powers veto| Top Armed Services Republican expects to address Pentagon border wall funds in defense policy bill On The Money: 3.2 million more Americans file new jobless claims | Schumer, Pelosi set to unveil ‘Rooseveltian’ relief package | Pelosi pushes back on Trump’s call for capital gains tax cuts MORE and Rep. Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyHouse Democrats unveil legislation to forgive student loans for health care workers Paid sick days and paid leave are health and economic recovery requirements DeVos sued for seizing student borrowers’ paychecks  MORE wrote a letter to Vice President Pence, who is overseeing the administration’s coronavirus response, and Azar, claiming some hospitals in their state were potentially affected by the mishap.

They said two Massachusetts hospitals are slated to receive the drug despite having fewer than 100 COVID-19 cases, while two others, each with more than 230 cases, will not be getting it.

“Congress and the public need to know whether HHS is making its distribution decisions in backroom deals or is relying on data and evidence to ensure that potentially life-saving drugs reach the patients who need them,” the lawmakers wrote. 

Michigan Reps. Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellAbortion battle threatens to upend health insurance push Federal employees push for COVID-19 protections in ‘dangerous’ workplaces The Hill’s Coronavirus Report: U.S. reaches grim milestone of 50,000 deaths; UAE Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba says COVID-19 crisis creates opportunity with Iran MORE (D) and Fred UptonFrederick (Fred) Stephen UptonThe Hill’s Coronavirus Report: Madeleine Albright says Trump’s America First strategy is hurting US with a virus that knows no borders; Fauci warns states against ‘leapfrogging’ reopening guidelines The Hill’s Coronavirus Report: Rep. Trey Hollingsworth says we must mitigate risks but we must also get back to a ‘normal’ America; US jobless claims top 30 million Bipartisan lawmakers back efforts to expand telehealth services for seniors MORE (R) sent a similar letter to HHS, noting a hospital with more than 500 COVID-19 patients in their state was denied doses of the drug. 

“Transparency in the federal government’s role in allocation of remdesivir, and guidance on how remdesivir should be allocated, will provide certainty to providers and facilitate a stronger and more cohesive response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Kadlec.

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