Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar sparked outrage from members of Congress and advocacy groups on Wednesday after he repeatedly refused to guarantee that any coronavirus vaccine or treatment developed with taxpayer money will be affordable for all in the U.S., not just the rich.
During the testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee Wednesday, Azar, who is a former pharmaceutical executive, was pressed multiple times to vow that vaccines and treatments for the coronavirus will be priced fairly and made affordable for all U.S. households.
“We would want to ensure that we’d work to make it affordable,” Azar told Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), “but we can’t control that price because we need the private sector input.”
Azar’s comments drew widespread condemnation.
“Under the Trump doctrine, if you are wealthy you can buy a vaccine and not succumb to the sickness,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a Democratic presidential candidate, said in a statement. “If you are poor or working class, you may have to get sick or even die. That is an outrage. That is unacceptable. We need a vaccine that is available to all.”
“He’s giving Big Pharma a blank check to monopolize them instead,” the Vermont senator added.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky voiced her outrage, saying that she gave Azar “THREE chances to assure us that any coronavirus vaccines or treatments developed with U.S. taxpayer dollars will be affordable and accessible to everyone and he flat out refused to do so.”
“He’s giving Big Pharma a blank check to monopolize them instead,” added Schakowsky.
Rep. Michael McAuliff took to Twitter to blast Azar’s remarks.
Here's the clip of Azar not assuring Rep. Schakowsky a covid-19 vaccine will be affordable to all. pic.twitter.com/Z8aNd4wLWj
— Michael McAuliff (@mmcauliff) February 26, 2020
Progressive advocacy group Social Security Works said late Wednesday that “this is what happens when you put a Big Pharma CEO who doubled the price of insulin in charge of regulating Big Pharma,” referring to Azar’s tenure at Eli Lilly.
“Pharma and their friends in the Trump admin don’t care how many people die,” the group wrote, “as long as they get to make a profit.”
President Trump, meanwhile, continued to downplay the threat the virus poses in the U.S., claiming “we’ve had tremendous success, tremendous success beyond what many people would’ve thought,” as his administration faces criticism for its slow and woefully inadequate response.
“Because of all we’ve done, the risk to the American people remains very low,” Trump claimed.