WAYNE STENEHJEM | Chair | 2020-2021
Starting in October 2020, the Attorney General Alliance, led by our Chair – North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenejhem – set out to force a dialogue between the state’s best and brightest legal minds and the private sector about issues related to an eventual COVID-19 vaccine. There was no approved vaccine when the project began, and most assumed a vaccine was unlikely to be approved in calendar year 2020. That is, the issue was – and remains – fluid and uncertain. A great deal about a vaccine response to COVID-19 remains a work in progress, and it is begrudgingly accepted that such ambiguity will remain the norm for months (even years) to come. Regardless, state Attorneys General are leaders that citizens turn to for reliable answers during times of insecurity.
As a continuation of our five cohorts (listed below) the Chair’s Initiative will proceed as a bi-monthly working group series via Zoom to address and discuss existing and new topics related to vaccine rollout. Starting January 27th, calls will take place every other Wednesday until June 8th, 2021. Please note this schedule remains a flexible outline – based on substance, we may extend or cut short this proposed end date.
The Attorney General Alliance developed five areas of interest to focus upon:
- Vaccine Methodologies and Legalities ;
- Prioritization of Vaccine Administration;
- Consumer Protection Issues;
- Constitutional Concerns Surrounding COVID-19 Vaccine
- Antitrust Implications Related to Vaccines
Each focus group was initially led by a bi-partisan pair of states. All five “cohorts,” as they came to be called, also included representatives from private industry. Each call was moderated by AGA staff to ensure the cohort stayed reasonably focused on its mandate, but participants were encouraged to be frank and to engage in thought leadership. Calls occurred weekly, were unrecorded, and participants all engaged with each other directly. Over the course of five weeks, more than 25 calls occurred involving participants from more than 30 states and dozens of companies.
This effort was not a legal review, but it forced state attorneys to focus on the complex yet critical issues presented by a vaccine response to a pandemic. Many topical issues were not discussed and could be brought up during future engagements, including but not limited to: health data privacy during a pandemic; telehealth during a pandemic; contact tracing and geolocation; denial of care and triage; mandatory quarantine measures; mitigation measures (such as full and partial closures or mask mandates); drug treatments; distance learning and myriad others.
Attorneys General stand at the center of many of these debates whether through legal advice to Governors or because of enforcement authority entrusted to them directly. But Attorneys General are also tested public servants who can partner with good corporate citizens, “work up” with the Federal government and assist local governments with their needs. Working through these issues requires legal acumen, public trust, bi-partisanship and dedication.
Our initiative has enjoyed impressive collaboration between Attorneys General, staff and front office, public regulators and private sector experts and all viewpoints. We will continue to discuss challenges and issues that states may encounter with the release of vaccines and until this pandemic declines, while working toward enabling a national response to COVID-19.