U.S. health secretary Azar defends vaccine process, tests negative for COVID-19

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on Friday defended the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s oversight of coronavirus vaccines under development and also said he had tested negative for COVID-19.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar attends a news conference about the latest coronavirus disease (COVID-19) developments, in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, U.S. August 23, 2020. REUTERS/Erin Scott

Azar made his vaccine comments at a congressional hearing while wearing a mask. Earlier on Friday, he tweeted that he had tested negative for COVID-19 after protectively being screened following news of President Donald Trump’s positive test.

“Out of an abundance of caution I was tested for COVID-19 this morning and the result was negative,” Azar wrote on Twitter.

Azar said six drugmakers that are receiving U.S. government funding for COVID-19 vaccine development have begun scaling up manufacturing of their vaccine candidates. The companies include Pfizer Inc, Moderna Inc, AstraZeneca PLC and Johnson & Johnson among others.

Like U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) head Stephen Hahn, Azar said he is confident in the safety of any authorized vaccine.

“I will be confident that my family and I should take the (COVID-19) vaccine … because any vaccine will have met FDA’s standards,” he said at the U.S. House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.

His comments come amid rising concerns among public health experts and citizens that a vaccine could be rushed without proper safety, in part because of the Nov. 3 presidential election.

The Washington Post reported last month that in an attempt to boost public trust, the FDA planned to announce new, more stringent standards for an emergency use authorization (EUA) of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Trump then said that he may or may not approve any new FDA standards, and the agency has not released any new guidance.

When asked if the White House would interfere with the new guidelines, Azar said the White House would need to sign off on any new public guidance, but that it would be consistent with letters the FDA had already sent to vaccine manufacturers stating the requirements for an EUA.

“I think this is a mountain out of a molehill because the FDA has already told the manufacturers what they’re going to look for and that is what it is,” Azar said.

Reporting by Carl O’Donnell in New York and Manojna Maddipatla in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington; Editing by Dan Grebler and Matthew Lewis

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