U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told a congressional panel Friday he is confident that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is not compromising its approval standards in a push to deliver a COVID-19 vaccine.
Azar made his appearance before Congress hours after U.S. President Donald Trump announced that he and first lady Melania Trump had both tested positive for COVID-19.
The health and human services secretary was asked to appear at the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis as the committee staff released a report saying the Trump administration "engaged in a persistent pattern of political interference" into efforts by public health officials to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The committee's report argued the president and his staff repeatedly injected partisan politics into public health decisions, overruling and sidelining the country's top scientists.
In his comments, Azar insisted that all actions coming out of his department's agencies — the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health — "are grounded in science and evidence." He said that standard also applies to authorization or approval of any COVID-19 vaccine.
He also added that, as of Friday, the United States has four candidate vaccines in Phase 3 clinical trials.
Trump has said on several occasions the U.S. is very close to developing a vaccine, which he said could be ready before the end of the year. Most public health officials have said it is more likely a vaccine would not be readily available before well into 2021.
Some scientists, public health officials and lawmakers have expressed concern that the Trump administration will pressure the FDA to authorize a COVID-19 vaccine in advance of the November 3 presidential election, even if data from clinical trials do not support its widespread use.
Azar also said that "out of an abundance of caution," he had been tested for COVID-19 earlier Friday and the results were negative.