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  • Washington Highlights

    Senate HELP Leaders Release Pandemic Preparedness Draft Legislation


    Ally Perleoni, Director, Government Relations
    Christa Wagner, Manager, Government Relations

    Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-N.C.) released a draft of their Prepare for and Respond to Existing Viruses, Emerging New Threats, and Pandemics Act (PREVENT Pandemics Act) on Jan. 25.

    With the legislation, the senators seek to incorporate lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic into enhanced preparedness and response capabilities for future pandemics.

    “We’ve all seen how damaging it is when communities can’t get tests, health care facilities can’t get masks, public health experts can’t get comprehensive data, and families can’t get clear, reliable information,” Murray said in a press statement accompanying the draft’s release. “After everything our nation has been through these past two years, we owe it to everyone who worked so hard to get us through this crisis to take every step we can to make sure we are never in this situation again.”

    “As the response to COVID-19 continues to evolve, we must reflect on the lessons learned from the last two years and determine where we were successful, where we failed, and what we did not anticipate so we are better prepared for the next threat we face. This discussion draft starts that conversation,” Burr added.

    The discussion draft aims to strengthen the public health enterprise and enhance future responses to public health threats through provisions that would:

    • Establish a congressionally appointed task force to conduct a review of the country’s COVID-19 response.
    • Increase authority for the Secretary of Health and Human Services to coordinate among public health agencies during a public health emergency.
    • Add flexibilities and clarifications on supply chain utilization and government stockpiles of medical products in the Strategic National Stockpile.
    • Require Senate confirmation for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director and an agency-wide strategic plan. 
    • Update public health data collection and dissemination capabilities.
    • Provide new authorities to address social determinants of health and health disparities, which are exacerbated in public health emergencies.
    • Establish a Public Health Information and Communication Advisory Committee to recommend actions to improve public health communication and address misinformation.
    • Encourage continued investment in long COVID-19 research as well as grant opportunities to develop medical countermeasures for pandemic threats.
    • Authorize funding to the CDC for enhanced genomic sequencing and surveillance of pathogens.

    Murray and Burr initially issued a call for stakeholder input in April 2021, to which the AAMC submitted extensive recommendations [refer to Washington Highlights, July 1, 2021]. The authors are seeking additional stakeholder feedback in response to the discussion draft by Feb. 4 before the committee moves to mark up a final version of the legislation in the “coming weeks.”

    The committee leaders noted that they would also work with senators to incorporate additional provisions in the draft, potentially including language to authorize President Joe Biden’s research initiative, the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H). Language to authorize ARPA-H has been introduced in the House through the ARPA-H Act (H.R. 5585) and the Cures 2.0 Act (H.R. 6000) [refer to Washington Highlights, Oct. 22, Nov. 19, 2021].