HHS secretary talks testing guidelines, COVID-19 vaccine during Orlando visit

HHS secretary Alex Azar toured transplant center at AdventHealth

ORLANDO, Fla. – Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar discussed the coronavirus pandemic during a visit to Central Florida on Friday.

Azar toured the AdventHealth Transplant Institute with hospital leaders to announce the expansion of support for living organ donation.

The announcement included compensation for lost wages, child care and elder care through the Health Resources and Services Administration.

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Azar’s visit came hours before the CDC announced changes to its COVID-19 testing guidelines.

The agency now recommends people get tested if they are exposed to someone who has coronavirus, even if they are not showing symptoms.

Azar was pressed about a New York Times article released on Friday that reports his department and the White House Coronavirus Task Force were involved with writing the previous recommendations. The article claims CDC scientists did not write the older guidelines, which said if a person was exposed but not showing symptoms then they did not need to take a test.

CBS News reported medical experts criticized the previous guidelines, saying asymptomatic people could still spread the virus.

Azar did not specifically say if if his department wrote the recommendations. He said it is a collaborative effort between the CDC, doctors and the federal government. He adds the CDC has the final say.

“You want the best possible thinking. You want to consider testing guidelines in connection with testing capacities, testing availabilities, etc.,” Azar said. “So you need many perspectives, but at the end of the day, testing guidelines aren’t going to go out unless the CDC director, unless they’re his guidelines that he supports.”

Azar also said three pharmaceutical companies are in the final stages of vaccine trials. He hopes to have the data to determine if they are safe and effective by late October.

“We believe it is highly credible that we will have in the high tens of millions of doses of FDA gold standard vaccine by the end of this year and many hundreds of millions of doses of that FDA gold standard vaccine as we go into next year,” he said.

As far as who will get the vaccine first, Azar said that hasn’t been determined.

“Of necessity, I can’t tell you this group, then this group, then this group until the data comes in and independent scientists and advisors in the CDC decide how best to use it,” Azar said.

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