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Congressman Upton: COVID-19 vaccine getting close

Fred Upton.jpg
U.S. Rep. Fred Upton
Congressman Upton's office

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton had encouraging news about the pandemic for the 1,400 people listening in on an AARP Michigan-hosted telephone today.

The St. Joseph Republican, whose 6th District includes Pfizer Inc. facilities, said Pfizer and three other pharmaceutical companies are closing in on a COVD-19 vaccine that could be ready to go by the end of the year.

He also said a device will soon be available that will enable people to self-test daily for the coronavirus and anti-bodies.

“I am encouraged about the progress,” Upton said during the hour-long call. “I do see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

He quoted Dr. Anthony Fauci, an immunologist who serves as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, as saying there could be 100 million doses of vaccine available by the end of 2020.

The vaccine may be manufactured in Kalamazoo, the Congressman said, adding: “Pfizer is in the phase II trial.”

Asked by a caller whether the vaccine will be affordable, he said:

“I hope costs will be down. Insurance, Medicaid and Medicaid will play a major role in making it affordable.”

Upton also noted he is co-sponsoring a bill with House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn of South Carolina to expand high-speed internet to rural areas that currently have no access. Broadband expansion could make telemedicine available to all corners of the state, substantially increasing access to health care. The growth of broadband would be funded by auctioning off a piece of the 5G airwave spectrum.

In Michigan, the legislation would make available $108 million a year for 10 years “that we could start deploying as early as this fall,” Upton said.

Upton also fielded these questions from participants on the teletown hall:

Will there be a second federal stimulus check?

“Nothing is done yet, but I expect another CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) package will be moved,” he said, adding that the issuing of a second stimulus check is on the table.

Upton added he supports the bipartisan Smart Act that would provide $500 billion to states, cities and counties based on a formula that takes into account population, number of COVID cases, and loss of revenue.

My husband is in a nursing home. It’s been four months since I’ve seen him. In what phase of reopening will visits to nursing homes be allowed?

Upton pointed out that the reopening of nursing homes for visits by loved ones is a state, not a federal, issue. But he reiterated that the impending availability of a vaccine may lead to the return of visitation.

Why isn’t the wearing of masks enforced?

“There is some responsibility for the store,” he said, adding that people wear masks at some businesses he has visited, and not at others. “I’m just hoping people like you and me saying something (to people not wearing masks) will embarrass them into wearing the masks.”

Will anything more be done to help small businesses?

The Congressman responded that there is $100 billion of Paycheck Protection Program money still available and that people should contact their lenders. The deadline for application for the program was recently extended.

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