Senate Health Chairman Alexander Introduces Bill to Prepare for the Next Pandemic

Posted on July 20, 2020

“Let’s not succumb to the familiar dangerous habit of ‘Panic. Neglect. Panic.’ Congress can take these three steps to keep vaccine manufacturing on shore and stockpiles supplied, now, while the pandemic has our attention, while we have our eye on the ball.” — Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.)

WASHINGTON, July 20, 2020 — Senate health committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today introduced the Preparing for the Next Pandemic Act — legislation that will maintain sufficient onshore manufacturing for tests, treatments and vaccines, and rebuild state and federal stockpiles of supplies like masks and ventilators.

“In this internet age, attention spans are short,” Alexander said today on the Senate floor. “Even with an event as significant as COVID-19, memories fade and attention moves quickly to the next crisis. That makes it imperative that Congress act this year on needed changes in order to better prepare for the next pandemic.”

“Let’s not succumb to the familiar dangerous habit of ‘Panic. Neglect. Panic.’ At least Congress can take these three steps to keep vaccine manufacturing on shore and stockpiles supplied, now, while the pandemic has our attention, while we have our eye on the ball.” 

The Preparing for the Next Pandemic Act does three things:

Onshore Manufacturing — Provides new, sustained funding – $5 billion over 10 years – to maintain sufficient onshore manufacturing for tests, treatments and vaccines so that when a new virus emerges, the United States has a facility ready to manufacture those products as quickly as possible.

State Stockpiles — Provides new, sustained funding – $10 billion over 10 years – so states can create and maintain their own stockpiles of supplies such as masks and ventilators with help from the federal government.

Federal Stockpiles — Finally, this legislation improves the federal Strategic National Stockpile, by allowing the Federal government to work with companies to maintain additional supplies and manufacturing capacity so we are even better prepared for the next pandemic.

On June 9, Alexander released a white paper with five recommendations to address future pandemics based on lessons learned from COVID-19 and the past 20 years of pandemic planning:

1.            Tests, Treatments, and Vaccines – Accelerate Research and Development

2.            Disease Surveillance – Expand Ability to Detect, Identify, Model, and Track Emerging Infectious Diseases

3.            Stockpiles, Distribution, and Surges – Rebuild and Maintain Federal and State Stockpiles and Improve Medical Supply Surge Capacity and Distribution

4.            Public Health Capabilities – Improve State and Local Capacity to Respond

5.            Who Is on the Flagpole? – Improve Coordination of Federal Agencies During a Public Health Emergency

The main purpose of the white paper was to elicit recommendations and feedback from experts who have studied public health preparedness that Congress could consider and act on this year 

The Committee received over 350 recommendations from leading public health experts of short-term and long-term proposals to address future pandemics on a range of topics, including: Sustaining onshore manufacturing (22 responses); Creating and sustaining State stockpiles (19 responses); and Improving the Federal stockpile (24 responses). 

Alexander concluded: “There is also broad agreement about additional steps Congress needs to take to prepare for the next pandemic, including improving disease surveillance, restoring support for our state and public health systems which Governor Mike Leavitt and others describe as being badly underfunded for the last 30-40 years, and better coordination of pandemic response. 

“I intend to keep legislation to better prepare for future pandemics on the top of the congressional to-do list until it’s done.”

Read Sen. Alexander’s full prepared floor speech on the Preparing for the Next Pandemic Act here.

Read the white paper, including a Foreword by former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, here.

 

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