Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar II told Congress on Wednesday that he cannot guarantee any future Coronavirus vaccine will be “affordable for everyone.”
During a Congressional hearing on Wednesday, Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) asked Secretary Azar to commit to making a future Coronavirus vaccine “affordable for everyone.” The secretary responded he could not, Business Insider reported.
“I’m saying we would want to ensure that we work to make it affordable, but we can’t control that price, because we need the private sector to invest,” Azar responded. “Price controls won’t get us there.”
The comment came at the end of an exchange between the secretary and the congresswoman over the affordability of a future vaccine.
As the questioning began, Schakowsky referenced a letter sent to President Donald Trump from 45 Members of Congress. She then asked Azar, “Are we going to be guaranteed affordable treatments or vaccines that are developed? We’re concerned that private pharmaceutical companies may end up having a role in this and raising the cost beyond the point that people could well afford it.”
“We absolutely share your passion around assuring affordable access to medicines,” Azar replied. “But, the private sector must have a role in this. We will not have a vaccine. We will not have therapeutics without the private sector candidates that they and we will have to invest in.”
Schakowsky challenged him on his response, stating: “We have paid for all of the R&D so far, right?”
The secretary replied, “No, that’s not accurate.” He continued, citing products already in the works by other companies.
Prior to his appointment as HHS Secretary, Azar served president of the Eli Lilly pharmaceutical giant. Azar came under fire during his nomination process for the skyrocketing cost of insulin that happened under his leadership, Politico reported in November 2017.
The testimony before Congress followed the statement by National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Nancy Messonnier where she described the Coronavirus situation as “not so much of a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more of a question of exactly when this will happen.”
Azar is attempting to get Congress to release more funding for the national emergency stockpile. He said medical supplies, including up to 300 million masks for health care workers, are badly needed.
During his testimony, Azar also informed legislators the number of confirmed Coronavirus cases in the United States rose to 60 on Wednesday.