Alexander: Congress Should Act This Year to Prepare for Next Pandemic

Posted on June 23, 2020

“While the nation is in the midst of responding to COVID-19, the United States Congress should take stock now of what parts of the local, state, and federal response worked, what could work better and how, and be prepared to pass legislation this year to better prepare for the next pandemic, which will surely come.” — Senator Lamar Alexander 

WASHINGTON, June 23, 2020 — Senate health committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today said Congress should act this year on “needed changes” to prepare for the next pandemic.

Alexander made his remarks today during a Senate health committee hearing at which former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist testified about his calls 15 years ago for Congress to prepare for a pandemic.

Witnesses testified as to how the federal government, states, hospitals, and health care providers should prepare for another wave of COVID-19 and future pandemics, based on lessons learned from COVID-19 and the past 20 years of pandemic planning 

“While the nation is in the midst of responding to COVID-19, the United States Congress should take stock now of what parts of the local, state, and federal response worked, what could work better and how, and be prepared to pass legislation this year to better prepare for the next pandemic, which will surely come,” Alexander continued.

On June 9, 2020, Chairman Alexander released “Preparing for the Next Pandemic,” a white paper outlining five recommendations for Congress to prepare Americans for the next pandemic:

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

Alexander has invited comments, responses, and any additional recommendations on the white paper to be submitted by Friday, June 26 for the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions to consider.

“Looking at lessons learned from the COVID-19 crisis thus far, many of the challenges Congress has worked to address during the last 20 years still remain,” Alexander continued. “Additionally, COVID-19 has exposed some gaps that had not been previously identified. These include unanticipated shortages of testing supplies and sedative drugs, which are necessary to use ventilators for COVID-19 patients.”

Alexander concluded: “Memories fade and attention moves quickly to the next crisis. That makes it imperative that Congress act on needed changes this year in order to better prepare for the next pandemic. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today and I also appreciate the feedback we are receiving on the white paper. I have set a deadline for June 26 on that feedback so the committee has time to draft and pass legislation this year.”

Read Chairman Alexander’s opening statement here.