Posted on September 16, 2020
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WASHINGTON, September 16, 2020 — United States Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today said Congress needs to break the cycle of “panic, neglect, panic” in response to public health threats. Alexander made his remarks at today’s Appropriations subcommittee hearing on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ COVID-19 response efforts so far, as well as what steps Congress can take now to prepare for the next pandemic.
“Jared Diamond, the author of ‘Guns, Germs and Steel,’ said the biggest difference with this pandemic versus those in the past is the ‘jet plane,’ which enables millions of people to carry infections from one place to another overnight. Because of this, the next pandemic could be as early as next year,” Alexander said. “This is not a new problem. Fifteen years ago, then Majority Leader of the Senate, Dr. Bill Frist, made 20 speeches predicting that a viral pandemic was no longer a question of ‘if,’ but a question of ‘when.’ Four presidents and several congresses have done some of what needed to be done to prepare for pandemics, but clearly not enough of it.
Alexander continued: “In preparing for future pandemics, we tend to go from panic to neglect to panic. In other words, while we're in the middle of a pandemic, it's got our attention, but as soon as it's over, we don't do all the things that we should do. So my hope is that with any action that we take this year, we would include the three or four things that we should do to make sure that we provide sustained funding for a period of years.”
As the chairman of the Senate health committee, Alexander has held nine hearings on issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic and put out a white paper in June to get feedback on what steps Congress could take to avoid the cycle of panic, neglect, panic. From the more than 350 comments received in response to his white paper, Alexander is focused on three recommendations that Congress can accomplish now:
- Sustained on-shore manufacturing capacity, to be able to rapidly manufacture enough tests, treatments, and vaccines to respond to the next pandemic
- Improving and sustaining state stockpiles of personal protective equipment, medical equipment, and medicines
- Strengthening the federal Strategic National Stockpile
Alexander asked Dr. Bob Kadlec, Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, if he thought that maintaining state stockpiles would require a lot of money. Dr. Kadlec responded: “No, sir. Most of these items are commonly used anyway daily in hospital use and health care use, and just maintaining that stockpile over time doesn't require a business model to support that.”
Alexander concluded: “We need to sustain our support for these critical activities, so they do not get caught up in a cycle of panic, neglect, panic.”
Witnesses at today’s hearing included: Admiral Brett Giroir, M.D., Assistant Secretary for Health, Department of Health and Human Services; Dr. Bob Kadlec, Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, Department of Health and Human Services; and Dr. Robert R. Redfield, Director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.