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Controversial doctor who questioned coronavirus vaccine to testify at Senate hearing

A doctor who has questioned federal vaccine mandates and promoted hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19 is slated to testify before a Senate committee this week on early at-home coronavirus treatments.

Jane Orient is the executive director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, a group that opposes government involvement in medicine, has promoted discredited medical theories and opposes mandatory vaccines. 

Orient was invited by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee to testify during a Tuesday hearing on early outpatient treatment for the virus. The hearing comes as health experts and government officials work to promote an upcoming vaccine as a way to contain a pandemic that has killed more than 280,000 in the U.S.

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The Tucson, Ariz.-based doctor was on a list of hundreds of physicians who in May urged President TrumpDonald TrumpHouse passes voting rights and elections reform bill DEA places agent seen outside Capitol during riot on leave Georgia Gov. Kemp says he'd 'absolutely' back Trump as 2024 nominee MORE to reopen the American economy despite growing coronavirus case counts at the time. 

“We are alarmed at what appears to be the lack of consideration for the future health of our patients. The downstream health effects of deteriorating a level are being massively under-estimated and under-reported. This is an order of magnitude error,” a letter from the group stated. 

Last year, she provided statements to Congress questioning the efficacy and morality of federal vaccine mandates. 

"A public health threat is the rationale for the policy on mandatory vaccines. But how much of a threat is required to justify forcing people to accept government-imposed risks?" Orient wrote to a Senate panel in February 2019. 

Senate Minority Leader Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerSenate panel splits along party lines on Becerra House Democrats' ambitious agenda set to run into Senate blockade A Biden stumble on China? MORE (D-N.Y.) blasted Republicans and committee Chairman Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonSenate coronavirus bill delayed until Thursday Democrats cut deals to bolster support for relief bill Senate GOP will force clerks to read bill to delay COVID-19 relief vote MORE (R-Wis.) for giving Orient a platform. 

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"At such a crucial time, giving a platform to conspiracy theorists to spread myths and falsehoods about Covid vaccines is downright dangerous and one of the last things Senate Republicans should be doing right now," Schumer said in a statement to The Hill. 

In a statement to The Hill, Johnson said vaccines are only one area of focus of Tuesday's hearing. 

“As Dr. McCullough pointed out in our first hearing, there are four pillars in fighting a pandemic. Early treatment and vaccines are two of them," Johnson said. "I continue to support development of a safe and effective vaccine. Had others been as supportive of early treatments, thousands of lives could have been saved. Our hearing tomorrow will again focus on early treatments as an essential part of a COVID-19 solution.”

Orient called Schumer's comments "odd." 

"I have been asked to testify about the urgent need for early out-patient treatment for COVID-19, which might already have prevented 100,000 deaths," Orient said. "This is needed now and will be needed even if and when we have widespread use of the promised "safe and effective" vaccine. Vaccines are not the subject of this hearing."

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In an interview with The New York Times, Orient said she rejects the title "anti-vaxxer" but remains resistant to government mandates on vaccines. 

“It seems to me reckless to be pushing people to take risks when you don’t know what the risks are,” Orient said. “People’s rights should be respected. Where is ‘my body, my choice’ when it comes to this?”

Orient told the Times she would use her appearance at the hearing to promote hydroxychloroquine — the anti-malaria drug touted by Trump — as a treatment for the coronavirus. Despite the president's backing, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) earlier this year withdrew its emergency use authorization for the drug and a number of studies have shown it to be ineffective and potentially harmful.

There has been no public discussion among government officials of a federal mandate when it comes to the coronavirus vaccine, and last week, president-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenThe West needs a more collaborative approach to Taiwan Abbott's medical advisers were not all consulted before he lifted Texas mask mandate House approves George Floyd Justice in Policing Act MORE said he would not consider or support one. 

"But I would do everything in my power — just like I don't think masks have to be made mandatory nationwide — I'll do everything in my power as president of the United States to encourage people to do the right thing," Biden said. 

Leading public health experts have said herd immunity through mass vaccination is the surest way to get the coronavirus pandemic under control. Several coronavirus vaccine candidates have completed clinical trials and are close to gaining emergency approval from the FDA. 

On Monday, the Trump administration announced the president would sign an executive order prioritizing Americans over citizens from foreign nations when it comes to getting the coronavirus vaccine.

“The priority is to make sure we distribute these vaccines to Americans before we start shipping them around the world to get international access,” an administration official told Fox News.

Anthony FauciAnthony FauciFauci donates personal COVID-19 virus model to Smithsonian Fauci warns of risks from single-dose strategy for Pfizer, Moderna vaccines MAGALand in Orlando MORE, the nation's leading infectious disease expert, said the country's worst months of coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths are still ahead before most Americans can expect to have access to the vaccine. 

"The cavalry is on its way," Fauci said last month. "It's not here yet, but it's going to come. We have an even better than expected efficacy signal on two vaccines. We're likely to already start having distribution of doses, hopefully by the end of December but certainly no later than at the beginning of January. If we can hang on and implement the public health measures, help is really on the way."