Trump’s coronavirus vaccine czar says he’s had ‘enough’ Democratic calls for his dismissal over pharmaceutical stock holdings

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President Donald Trump’s coronavirus vaccine czar told CNBC on Wednesday he was fed up with accusations that his former job in the pharmaceutical industry creates a conflict of interest.Dr Moncef Slaoui, who was appointed on May 15 to lead the Trump administration’s Covid-19 vaccination program, Operation Warp Speed, is a former GlaxoSmithKline executive as well as a former member of the Lonza board. Group and Moderna.

All three companies are involved in the development of Covid-19 vaccines, and House Democrats have previously said it held capital in all three until recently. Democrats said his stake in Moderna was worth nearly $ 12.4 million before selling it and that he held around $ 10 million in GSK shares in May, according to an Aug. 12 letter requesting more information on its investments.

Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren on Wednesday called for Slaoui’s resignation, accusing the White House of using a “loophole” in federal ethics law to hire him and keep his actions private. The former GSK executive still owns shares in the company, even though she is developing a potential Covid-19 vaccine with Sanofi. She also cited a House committee report according to which Slaoui may own shares in the Lonza group, a Moderna partner company on its coronavirus vaccine and of which Slaoui was a member of the board of directors.

Slaoui admitted in a telephone interview with CNBC that he still owns shares in GSK, where he worked for almost 30 years, and said he plans to use them as part of his retirement. But he said he “had never owned shares in Lonza”.

He also said he has sold all the shares of the companies that hold interests in Covid-19 except GSK. He said the decision to keep his GSK shares had been discussed with ethics lawyers at the Department of Health and Human Services.

“I let go of significant value on a personal basis. I am determined in public health and in getting rid of this pandemic, ”he said. “It amazes me how many times I am attacked on a personal basis for doing good. I think it is sufficient. ”

Warren said lawmakers must strengthen federal ethics laws “to eradicate this type of corruption.”

“It should pass the Coronavirus Oversight Recovery Ethics Act, which is a bill I introduced to ban conflict of interest in the federal Covid-19 response. And the first person to be fired should be Dr. Slaoui, ”the Massachusetts senator said during a Senate appropriations subcommittee hearing.

Slaoui said some politicians are quick to make statements.

“I think there is a rush to give negative, downright inflammatory, inappropriate, hurtful messages on a personal basis,” he said. “I gave all the information that was requested and I continue to give it. And they were not properly analyzed. ”

Responding to Slaoui’s comments on Wednesday, Warren told CNBC: “If Dr. Slaoui has had enough, it’s simple: he can disclose his financial interests and divest himself completely immediately or he can opt out. The American people should never doubt that the government will put public health above profits during a pandemic. ”

This is not the first time that Warren has accused Slaoui of a conflict of interest.

In May, Warren denounced Slaoui’s stakes in Moderna, where he was also a board member, calling it a “huge conflict of interest” on Twitter.

HHS announced days after Warren’s tweet that Slaoui would be divesting approximately $ 12.4 million in stock options he held at Moderna after reports revealed he still held more of 150,000 shares of the pharmaceutical manufacturer.

Slaoui resigned in mid-May from the boards of Moderna and Lonza.

Warren also spoke to Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr Stephen Hahn on Wednesday about Slaoui’s ties to the pharmaceutical industry and whether this is eroding public trust in the agency.

In response, Hahn said he had “no knowledge” of what Warren described, adding that the FDA had drawn “a very clear line” between the agency and Operation Warp Speed.

“We don’t participate in their decisions. We provide technical assistance as we would any sponsor, ”he said at the hearing. “I take the issue of conflict of interest and how it might affect public perception very seriously. “

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