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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Review of ASPR’s Coronavirus Response Efforts

Statement by HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Robert Kadlec

September 16, 2020

Chairman Blunt, Ranking Member Murray, and distinguished Members of the Committee. I am Dr. Bob Kadlec, the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response.  As a medical doctor, a former Senate committee staffer, retired military officer, and having served in the White House – I have spent my adult life working to serve and protect the American people.  I appreciate the opportunity to testify before you to highlight ASPR’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, our progress in vaccine development, and our efforts to confront and mitigate this pandemic.

I want to thank this Committee for providing both the supplemental resources for the COVID-19 response as well as for supporting and sustaining the ASPR organization in the past. Your investments have been critical to support our operations and ensure we have tools available to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Throughout 2020, ASPR has used these resources to protect American lives. We assisted in the repatriation of Americans from China and Japan at the start of the pandemic. ASPR provided medical surge support in Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi after Hurricane Laura, and today we have teams deployed to Louisiana and Mississippi prepared with to assist in response and recovery efforts following Hurricane Sally.  We have deployed personnel and teams to California and Oregon to support wildfire response and search and rescue and we deployed personnel to Beirut to assist the Government of Lebanon with hospital recovery following the catastrophic explosion.  We supported these calls to action while simultaneously responding to state, local territorial and tribal requests for assistance in the COVID response.

It is an honor to lead this organization, and I am truly humbled by the selflessness and dedication of the men and women of ASPR.  While we have seen a decline in new cases, deaths and hospitalizations, we continue to work hard to enhance our country’s preparedness and response capabilities.  I am proud that ASPR has been a driving force in this Whole of America effort.

Since early 2020, ASPR and BARDA began working to accelerate vaccine development. This work was foundational to the development of Operation Warp Speed, a whole-of-government approach working with our private sector partners to the produce and deliver a safe and effective vaccine as fast and as safe as possible.

The supplemental appropriations provided by this Committee have been essential in permitting significant advancements under Operation Warp Speed. As a result, America is far better positioned than before to keep Americans safe, protect vulnerable communities and defeat COVID-19.

To date, we have awarded $13.6 billion to support over 50 medical countermeasure projects. Seven of these awards are vaccine contracts. We are making significant progress in advancing these vaccines through the clinical trial process. In fact, three candidates – 1) AstraZeneca, 2) Moderna and 3) Pfizer – are in Phase 3 clinical trials, meaning that we are closer than ever to a safe and effective vaccine available to the public. Three others are in Phase 1 and 2.

Safety is our top-priority in the development of vaccines and therapeutics, which is why science is driving the development of all COVID-19 countermeasures to ensure they meet FDA’s gold standard of approval.

In the meantime, we have implemented an intensive, efficient process to promote vaccine development and in parallel manufacturing.  Supporting these efforts simultaneously ensures we are positioned to distribute and administer the vaccine quickly once approved.

ASPR also continues to support advancements in life-saving therapeutics. For example, ASPR has taken a data-driven approach to oversee the fair and equitable distribution of remdesivir.  To date, we have distributed to states enough remdesivir – to treat over 600,000 patients.

ASPR has also supported mitigation efforts to slow virus transmission.  Since March, ASPR has produced and distributed more than 500 million cloth facial coverings across the country to protect vulnerable populations and essential workers. This month, we are supporting the Trump Administration’s school facial coverings initiative by sending 125 million cloth face masks to states and territories for distribution to low-income students, in order to support the safe reopening of America’s schools.

As the federal lead for Emergency Support Function 8, ASPR capitalizing on existing relationships with DoD, VA and DHS to proudly coordinate a more effective medical nationwide response. We responded to requests from 32 states, 3 territories, and 5 tribes with nearly 100 medical support missions and over 5,700 staff from ASPR’s National Disaster Medical Assistance Teams, the Public Health Service, Veterans Affairs, and the Department of Defense.  Our ability to mobilize federal medical capabilities was critical assisting overwhelmed civilian health care workers in hard hit areas taking care of patients and saving lives.   

ASPR provided essential Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic when the national supply chain was initially unable to meet the demands of the healthcare system. As we move into the fall, we are quickly replenishing the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) PPE to have 90-days of supplies on hand, under President Trump’s SNS 2.0 initiative.  

The SNS 2.0 initiative has three main objectives:

  • Expand the depth and breadth of our stockpile to meet any future pandemic or public health emergency;
  • Grow the U.S. industrial base for critical pharmaceuticals and medical supplies; and,
  • Reduce America’s vulnerabilities and reliance on foreign suppliers and manufacturers.

Through the effective implementation of the Defense Protection Act, we have made great strides in achieving these objectives.  As a result, the U.S. is in a fundamentally better position in regards to PPE than just a few months ago and better prepared for the future.

To learn more, see the Review of Coronavirus Response Efforts hearing before the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations.

  • This page last reviewed: September 16, 2020