Senate Passes Burr’s Bipartisan Biodefense and Pandemic Preparedness Legislation

Legislation to improve emergency public health and medical preparedness and response; includes key provisions to develop new drug and vaccine countermeasures

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today the Senate approved S. 3678, the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act authored by Senator Richard Burr. The legislation improves our public health and medical preparedness for and responses to emergencies and disasters. Additionally, it enables the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to partner with universities, research institutions, and industry to bring more and better medical countermeasures to the public faster in case of emergency, such as a flu pandemic. Burr has been working on the bill for almost two years. Co-sponsors include Senators Enzi, Kennedy, Gregg, Frist, Harkin, Alexander, Mikulski, Isakson, DeWine, Hatch, Clinton, Roberts, Chambliss, and Bayh.

"We learned from Hurricane Katrina and 9/11 that we need an all-hazards approach to public health and medical disasters," said Senator Burr. "The threats of terrorism, infectious disease, and natural disasters highlight the need for an even stronger public health and medical infrastructure equipped to respond to emergencies of all kinds be they deliberate, accidental, or natural. I am pleased the Senate passed this bill and I am hopeful the House can take it up this week," Burr added.

Burr's bill reauthorizes the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002, which was signed into law following the terrorist attacks of September 11th. This law made important improvements in our ability to detect bioterrorist attacks and to care for a greater number of patients in an emergency. Burr's bill also builds on the Project BioShield Act of 2004 to accelerate advanced research and development of drugs and vaccines to protect the United States from health emergencies.

Specifically, the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act:

Puts Someone in Charge

• The bill identifies the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services as the lead federal official responsible for public health and medical response to emergencies which will help eliminate confusion and chaos, and increase accountability and predictability.

• The bill unifies HHS preparedness and response programs under a re-named Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, which will ensure someone in the federal government, is constantly improving the country's preparedness. The legislation also moves the National Disaster Medical System from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to HHS which will help unify medical preparedness and response activities.

Provides Funds for State and Local Preparedness

• The bill reauthorizes over $1 billion per year in federal funding through grants from HHS for state and local public health and medical preparedness.

• The bill stresses accountability by requiring HHS to establish evidence-based benchmarks and performance standards to measure progress, and it requires States to measure and report on these activities.

• The legislation also focuses on strategies to address the public health and medical needs of at-risk individuals, including children and senior citizens, who have special needs during an emergency.

Improves Public Health Security

• The legislation builds the foundation for a uniform public health security system that is robust and trained to address all-hazards public health emergencies. Public health departments across the country have varying abilities to identify a case of bird flu and contain its spread. This bill establishes a set of key capabilities all health departments must strive for.

• The bill also modernizes how public health departments detect, respond to, and manage public health threats, by collecting instant electronic information which will enable public health officials to make informed decisions before, during, and after a public health emergency.

• The bill further strengthens the nation's public health infrastructure by offering loan repayments to recruit and train a stronger public health workforce, capable of responding to emergencies. This will help address the public health workforce shortage, including the 45% of the workforce that is expected to retire in the next few years.

Speeds Up Emergency Medical Response

• The legislation improves training, logistics, and planning for health care providers and volunteers to ensure emergency medical care can be delivered faster during a disaster.

• The bill promotes the use of mobile hospitals and alternative federal facilities which can help handle an increased number of patients during an emergency.

• The bill makes it easier for health care providers to volunteer in emergency situations and it enables the Secretary of HHS to provide liability protections for approved volunteers.

Develops More Medical Countermeasures

• The bill improves our ability to quickly develop countermeasures to protect against deadly threats such as pandemic flu and bioterrorism. The process for developing a new drug or vaccine still takes up to a decade and costs hundreds of millions of dollars.

• The legislation reorganizes and enhances HHS medical countermeasure research, development, and procurement activities. The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) will be an aggressive venture capitalist partnering with universities, research institutions and industry on the advanced development of promising drugs and vaccines.

The Senate Subcommittee on Bioterrorism and Public Health Preparedness, chaired by Senator Burr, held thirteen public hearings and roundtables prior to the introduction of the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act. The hearings explored improvements in medical disaster response, current and future threats, and barriers to the development of effective medical countermeasures against chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear agents. In June, Senator Burr also held a field hearing on public health preparedness in New Orleans, Louisiana to evaluate the lessons learned from Hurricane
Katrina. In September, Senator Burr hosted a demonstration of Carolinas MED-1 mobile hospital on the Capitol grounds.

For more information go to https://www.burr.senate.gov

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