Lawmakers press HHS for answers on coronavirus drug distribution

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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However, internal errors reportedly caused by the use of outdated COVID-19 statistics resulted in thousands of the doses going to “less impacted counties” while others were unable to obtain any.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 Markey and Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Ayanna Pressley 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 Dingell (D) and Fred Upton (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.

Tags Ayanna Pressley Debbie Dingell Ed Markey Elizabeth Warren Fred Upton Massachusetts Remdesivir

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