04.29.09

Senator Burr's Opening Statement at HELP Committee Hearing to Address 2009 H1N1 Flu Outbreak

Senator Brown, thank you for holding today's hearing on this very important topic of the 2009 H1N1 flu outbreak, which has also been referred to as "swine flu", and our nation's public health and medical response. I would like to thank our witnesses, Dr. Besser and Dr. Fauci, for taking the time to be with the Committee today to bring us up to speed on the latest with this outbreak. Thank you for your leadership in protecting our nation's health. I look forward to hearing your honest assessment of the current situation. We are deeply saddened and sobered by the news this morning of the first death in the United States, a young child. Americans, especially parents, are understandably concerned and are watching this situation very closely.

During the 109th Congress, I chaired the Subcommittee on Bioterrorism and Public Health Preparedness. Building on the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina and September 11th, Congress took a hard look at how we could better prepare and respond to public health and medical emergencies. The Subcommittee held multiple public hearings, roundtables, and meetings, and Congress received significant input from public health officials, medical experts, emergency managers, biotechnology companies, and stakeholders from across our nation. These actions culminated with the passage of the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act of 2006. I am very proud to have authored this important bipartisan law and to have worked with many of my colleagues on this Committee, including Senators Kennedy and Enzi, on this bill and other important pieces of legislation.

Through the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act, Congress empowered the Department of Health and Human Services with the tools it needs to protect the American people more effectively and efficiently in response to a public health emergency. Since 2006, the Department has made progress in implementing this law. I hope one good story that we will see come out of this situation is that the tools that Congress gave the Department are being put to good use in responding to H1N1. For example, this law established the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, or ASPR, to unify the Department's preparedness and response programs. Since its inception, ASPR has carried out significant preparedness and response planning, and is now playing a critical role in the current public health emergency by helping to coordinate response efforts with federal, State, and local public health partners. In addition, the National Biodefense Science Board, which was also created by this law, provides important advice and guidance to HHS on matters related to public health emergency preparedness and response. With the passage of this law in 2006, HHS now has additional authority to make sure we are prepared and can respond to an emergency like the one we are experiencing today.

In particular, in the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act, Congress created the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, to speed up the development of countermeasures -- such as vaccines or treatments -- to protect Americans against a potential chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear terrorist attack, or other public health emergency such as a pandemic flu. The Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act authorized over a billion dollars for BARDA. But - despite my best efforts -- Congress has failed to provide this full funding. Thankfully, even without full funding, BARDA has been able to identify promising countermeasures, fund the advanced research and development necessary for making these products available, and has supported their acquisition, stockpiling, and deployment. I believe firmly that, thanks to BARDA and the investment we have made over the last few years, our nation is now much better positioned to quickly respond to the H1N1 flu outbreak and other potential pandemics.

I am ready to work with the Administration and my colleagues to do what we need to do to make sure that we fight the spread of the H1N1 flu as much as possible and protect the health of Americans, especially the most vulnerable of our society. While we have immediate needs at hand to address, we must also not lose sight of the ongoing work that must be done if our nation is going to be fully prepared for future public health emergencies or a bioterrorist attack. This outbreak should be a wake up call to all of us for why we cannot let our guard down. We must continue to invest in BARDA and other tools so that we can tackle not only today's public health emergency but also what we may have to confront in the future. I thank the Chair.