The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies April 18 held a hearing to discuss the administration’s fiscal year (FY) 2019 budget proposal related to biodefense and preparedness programs at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
The testifying witnesses included Robert Kadlec, MD, HHS assistant secretary for preparedness and response; Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID); and Stephen Redd, MD, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response.
Subcommittee Chair Tom Cole (R-Okla.) kicked off the hearing by pointing out that “over the past several decades, the frequency and diversity of disease outbreaks has increased across the world,” adding recent outbreaks like Zika and Ebola required a “quick, sustained, international approach” to address public health threats.
Chairman Cole also praised Congress for expanding its FY 2018 investment in biodefense and public health emergency preparedness programs, highlighting the inclusion of more funding to support efforts like Project BioShield, pandemic influenza outbreak programs, and research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), among others.
In contrast, Chairman Cole expressed concern that the administration’s FY 2019 budget proposal is “inadequate to address the gaps in the country’s preparedness for future health emergencies.” He also stated, “This is part of the security of the country and very much the same way as the Department of Defense. If you look at the danger, the real danger, for thousands of Americans being killed, it’s much more likely to come from this direction than a foreign actor. So, having this type of robust defense capability is extraordinarily important to the country.”
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), who served as acting ranking member for the subcommittee hearing, also discussed the Ebola outbreak and praised Dr. Fauci, who was involved in treating one of two nurses who contracted the Ebola virus. Rep. Roybal-Allard said the Ebola outbreak was a reminder that “it is better to invest in advance so we are better prepared to deal with a threat when it arrives.”
In addition to supporting the development of vaccines and therapeutics, Rep. Roybal-Allard said “we also need enough well-trained epidemiologists and health professionals to identify, investigate, and track disease outbreaks.” She also called for support for “laboratory capacity to analyze large volumes of samples” and “search capacity in hospitals and other facilities to take care of large numbers of seriously ill patients.”
The work of the NIH was highlighted by Rep. Andy Harris,MD (R-Md.), who called it a “double advantage” because discoveries related to vaccine development “can be used for a disease unrelated to bioterrorism.” Furthering his point, he said, “When you get the flu, there are standard measures that are good for other diseases as well.”
Supporting biomedical research facilities like those at academic institutions, nonprofits, and hospitals was raised by Rep. John Moolenaar (R-Mich.). Dr. Fauci affirmed the need to keep providing funding for extramural research institutions, saying that the nation’s institutions carry out important preparedness work.