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  • Washington Highlights

    Energy and Commerce Committee Holds Hearing on Public Health Biopreparedness

    Tannaz Rasouli, Sr. Director, Public Policy & Strategic Outreach

    The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations June 15 held a hearing titled “The State of U.S. Public Health Biopreparedness: Responding to Biological Attacks, Pandemics, and Emerging Infectious Disease Outbreaks.” The hearing followed a June 6 Committee hearing on draft legislation that would reauthorize the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act (PAHPA) [see Washington Highlights, June 8].

    Hearing witnesses included Rick A. Bright, PhD, Director, Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), Deputy Assistant Secretary, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR); Anthony Fauci, MD, Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health; Rear Admiral Denise Hinton, Chief Scientist, Food and Drug Administration; and Rear Admiral Anne Schuchat, MD, Principal Deputy Director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

    Witnesses were asked about the 2014 Ebola response where several individuals were treated for the disease within the United States. Specifically, witnesses were asked about the use of public and private partnerships in responding to the outbreak. Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.) asked, “I was so proud of the public-private partnership between Emory University and the CDC and all four patients recovered. I just want to know, will you be using that model in the future for other pandemics?” He continued, “We’re very proud of the work done at Emory University, and I think it’s a great example of what we can do in the future.”

    In response, Dr. Bright stated, “I also want to make sure that we capitalize and not lose the expert lessons learned from Emory University. As you may know, we stood up a national Ebola training center that’s based in Nebraska in collaboration with Emory University, University of Nebraska, and Bellevue. It is an example of one of the finest educational centers on Ebola and other epidemic treatments in the world now.”

    Additionally, an area of focus throughout the hearing was the development of various medical countermeasures and the response to influenza. Subcommittee Chair Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) started the hearing by asking witnesses which biologic threat is of greatest concern, and both Dr. Schuchat and Dr. Fauci answered that influenza would top the list. Subcommittee Ranking Member Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) asked specific questions about influenza and the development of a universal flu vaccine to Dr. Fauci. In his answer about what Congress could do to help in the process, Dr. Fauci stated, “I think Congress has been extraordinary in their positive effect on us and helping us. For example, in the 2018 omnibus, we were given an additional $40 million to develop a universal flu vaccine, and we’re getting additional money in the proposal in the House for the 2019 budget.”

    Additional areas of focus during the hearing included the Strategic National Stockpile and the development of new medical countermeasures. During his opening statement, Dr. Bright addressed the recommendations of the ASPR to adjust appropriations mechanisms to ensure medical countermeasures are available to address potential threats, especially influenza. Dr. Bright stated, “ASPR has also recommended adding a direct funding line BARDA’s pandemic influenza preparedness activities. This authorization of appropriations will help sustain domestic influenza vaccine manufacturing capacity, as well as support better, faster influenza vaccine technologies and antivirals and rapid response platform technologies.”

    The committee has not yet announced a date to vote on its legislation to reauthorize PAHPA.