Pandemic Preparedness Bill Advances; financing still needed | News, Sports, Jobs


FILE – Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., speaks during a press conference on Capitol Hill, Feb. 1, 2022, in Washington. A Senate committee on Tuesday, March 15 approved a bipartisan plan to overhaul the country’s public health system. Murray and Sen. Richard Burr, RN.C., worked for more than a year on the outlines of the bill. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Senate committee on Tuesday approved a bipartisan plan to overhaul the nation’s public health system, applying lessons from COVID-19 to future outbreaks through a new chain of command, a more comprehensive medical supply chain. strong and clearer crisis communications.

The Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved the PREVENT Pandemics Act by a 20-2 vote.

But this is only a first step. If the ambitious vision ends up passing Congress, lawmakers still have to come up with the tens of billions of dollars it will take to translate it into reality and maintain focus after the coronavirus recedes. Right now, Congress is even struggling to meet a request for additional funds from the White House to keep COVID-19 at bay for the rest of this year.

“We owe it to everyone who has worked so hard to meet the challenges of this pandemic to make sure (that) we never find ourselves in a situation like this again,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., Chair of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

She and rank-and-file Republican Richard Burr of North Carolina worked for more than a year on the outlines of the bill, which also calls for a national 9/11 Commission-style task force to investigate it. that hasn’t worked in the coronavirus response and making recommendations to the President and Congress. And the legislation incorporates the creation of a new cutting-edge medical research and development agency called ARPA-H__ that President Joe Biden has called for.

“The central question we face today is how to better anticipate the next threat we will face and innovate fast enough to meet the challenge,” said Burr. “The future, unfortunately, is difficult to predict.”

The bill begins by formally assigning responsibility for the pandemic response – in Burr’s words, “mission control” — in a new White House office, on par with national security. In the Obama White House, the National Security Council had a global health unit, but this was disbanded under the Trump administration.

Congressional oversight of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would be strengthened by requiring Senate confirmation of its director. Confusion over the CDC’s health recommendations has been a recurring problem in the pandemic, so the legislation calls for an advisory council to direct health officials how to convey factual information more clearly to the public.

From a scientific point of view, the legislation involves several stages.

They include more active surveillance of emerging diseases, development of epidemic forecasting capacity and improved data collection and distribution. The Food and Drug Administration would be given higher priority on drugs and countermeasures targeting infectious diseases.

The bill calls for special attention to the medical supply chain, from raw materials for making drugs to protective equipment that was so scarce during the first wave of the pandemic, to testing that has continued to be a problem in the omicron wave.

Two Republicans voted against the measure in committee, Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Braun of Indiana. Paul used the opportunity to launch another attack on his nemesis, the National Institutes of Health’s Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert. Paul’s amendment to strip Fauci of his post and disband his National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases was firmly rejected. He and Fauci have clashed repeatedly and publicly during the pandemic.

How much money would be needed to make the plan a reality remains unclear.

A new report estimates that overhauling public health and preparedness in the United States could require $100 billion in the first year, $20-30 billion in the next two years and $10-15 billion per year thereafter. continued.

“We have to spend proportionally to the damage caused, and the damage caused has been enormous,” said Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel of the University of Pennsylvania, one of the authors. “Being thrifty now would be foolish.”

Some major public health groups say they like the general direction of the Senate bill, but want to take a closer look at the specifics before taking a formal position. Dr. Georges Benjamin of the American Public Health Association said he was concerned that making the CDC director a Senate-confirmed post would inject too much politics into the agency’s work.

“Obviously, we are in favor of funding to rebuild the public system”, says Benjamin, adding that “We have a few questions about the bill as it has evolved.”

Meanwhile, Congress has yet to act on Biden’s request for $22.5 billion in immediate funding to maintain momentum in the COVID-19 response. The White House issued a new warning on Tuesday about a potential rebound in virus cases if it does not secure new funding for vaccines, treatments and other priorities. Republicans question how previously allocated funds were spent, and Democrats oppose redirecting money that had already been pledged to states.



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