Opening Statement (As Prepared)
Click here to stream the hearing.
Thank you to our witnesses for being here today and providing testimony regarding the Department of Defense’s health surveillance efforts, which include monitoring health threats and emerging infections, biosurveillance, and epidemiological analysis – to include the impacts of infections and vaccines.

As a member of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, I am not unfamiliar with efforts to politicize the science behind vaccines to the detriment of public health and national security. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of using fact-driven, science-based approach to this conversation today.

Let’s focus on the facts. Safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine options have been readily available since 2021. According to the CDC, in the first ten months that COVID-19 vaccines were available, they saved over 200,000 lives and prevented over 1.5 million hospitalizations in the United States. This is the purpose of these vaccines: to save lives and prevent severe disease.

While the military COVID-19 vaccine requirement was rescinded in January 2023, 96  percent of the Active and Reserve Force – over 1.9 million people – safely received one or more doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Vaccine requirements have longstanding precedent in the armed forces. Since the founding of the U.S. military, vaccine requirements have been necessary to preserve military readiness and personnel safety—from General George Washington’s smallpox vaccination of the Continental Army in 1777 to the flu vaccine requirement in the mid-twentieth century. Today, the Department administers as many as 17 different vaccinations, and while it was in effect, the COVID-19 vaccination requirement helped ensure that our armed forces remained healthy and medically ready.

Service members that have received COVID-19 vaccines have done so under the most intense safety monitoring program in U.S. history. The CDC, the FDA, and other federal partners use multiple passive and active surveillance systems and data sources to conduct comprehensive safety monitoring of COVID-19 vaccines. And the Department of Defense conducts near real-time monitoring and research on the impacts of COVID-19 vaccinations and infections through the Military Health System.

Studies continue to show that the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination outweigh the risk. Yet concern and apprehension regarding the safety of COVID-19 vaccines persists. This may be due in large part to a fundamental misunderstanding of the Department’s COVID-19 vaccine surveillance data, which has, unfortunately, been the subject of misleading news stories over the past year. The Department of Defense’s monitoring efforts of COVID-19 have reported a small number of increases in adverse health effects following the COVID-19 vaccine requirement. But correlation does not imply causation. Legitimate questions remain as to the root cause of these identified adverse health effects.

The overarching question for today’s panel is one of paramount importance: are there long-term effects from COVID-19 on our service members? And if so, how do we discern whether any increase in reported adverse health effects are attributable to the virus itself or a vaccine? To address this question comprehensively, we must approach today’s discussion with scientific rigor, ensuring that we prioritize the health and safety of our all-volunteer Force as a whole above all else.

As we navigate the complexities of this issue, we must acknowledge the profound impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the operational readiness of our armed forces. First and foremost, the pandemic resulted in thousands of hospitalizations across the Department and the tragic loss of hundreds of lives. It also had far-reaching second- and third-order effects on our military, including disruptions in training exercises and deployments, the mobilization of military medical personnel to support civilian pandemic response efforts, and negative impacts to military family quality of life issues like delays in moves, child care, and health care access.

At the heart of today’s discussion regarding the Department’s monitoring of COVID-19 lies a fundamental commitment to the health and well-being of our service members. That must ultimately include a shared dedication to transparency and facts grounded in scientific evidence.

Mr. Chairman, I’d like to request that the Department of Defense’s “Report on Cardiac and Kidney Issues in Service Members Prior to and Following the COVID Vaccine Requirement” be included in the record for today’s hearing. Congress required this report in the FY23 NDAA, and it serves as an example of the careful and thoughtful monitoring the Department is doing.

I look forward to our witnesses’ testimony and their responses to our questions today.

I yield the balance of my time.