Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-N.C.) announced on March 9 the introduction and markup of the Prepare for, and Respond to Existing Viruses, Emerging New Threats, and (PREVENT) Pandemics Act. The committee markup will occur on March 15.
Murray and Burr had previously released a discussion draft of the PREVENT Pandemics Act and sought stakeholder feedback on the legislation, to which the AAMC responded on Feb. 4. The updated legislation introduced by Murray and Burr includes a new provision reflecting an AAMC recommendation to recognize the critical role of federal coordination in pandemics by establishing an Office of Pandemic Preparedness and Response Policy within the Executive Office of the President.
Similar to the recommendation the AAMC Research and Action Institute published in its September 2021 report, The Way Forward Starts Now: Lessons from COVID-19, the legislation specifies that the office shall be headed by a director that would be appointed by the president. It would be the director’s responsibility to advise the president, make recommendations, and coordinate federal activities to prepare for and respond to pandemics and other biological threats that might impact national security. Other duties would include consulting with relevant federal officials, identifying opportunities to leverage current and emerging technologies, and implementing the findings of federal after-action reports required by the legislation.
Of note, in its Feb. 4 response to the discussion draft, the AAMC made the following key recommendations to improve the legislation [refer to Washington Highlights, Feb. 11]:
- Include robust and sustained funding for public health infrastructure.
- Ensure that the legislation includes measures to improve clinical preparedness by investing in flexible surge capacity, expanding existing networks to address special pathogens and disaster response, expanding telehealth, and bolstering the health care workforce.
- Incorporate a focus on health equity throughout the draft legislation.
- Leverage academic medicine’s expertise as a key stakeholder in preparing for future pandemics.
Not included in the updated legislation is text to address President Joe Biden’s proposed Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H). Murray and Burr separately introduced authorizing legislation, the ARPA-H Act, on March 10, after previously noting they intended to move the stand-alone measure with the PREVENT Pandemics Act.