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U.S. health officials defend handling of pandemic policies at Senate hearing

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NEW YORK, Sept 23 (Reuters) – U.S. health officials on Wednesday defended their agencies against broad criticism of their handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic, telling a U.S. Senate committee that they were using science as their guide, not politics.

The head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Dr. Stephen Hahn said during a hearing held by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that the agency and its career scientists would vet the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines.

“FDA will not authorize, or approve a vaccine that we would not feel comfortable giving to our families,” Hahn said.

The committee called Hahn, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention head Dr. Robert Redfield, U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases head Dr. Anthony Fauci and Health and Human Services official Adm. Brett Giroir to testify on the pandemic, which has caused more than 200,000 deaths in the United States.

Democratic Senator Patty Murray, the highest ranking Democrat on the committee, pointed to several reported examples of Trump Administration pressure on the health agencies, including the FDA authorizations of hydroxychloroquine and convalescent plasma as treatments for COVID-19 and changes in the CDC’s guidance on testing for asymptomatic individuals.

“Any of these examples of political pressure would be alarming on their own. But together they paint a clear pattern of interference that is downright terrifying,” she said.

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