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Tuesday, January 25th, 2022

U.S. lawmakers seek to fund program supporting academic medical centers in pandemic preparedness, response

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A new legislative effort is pushing for a new program to designate academic medical centers as research and communication hubs in the American preparation for and response to pandemics.

While COVID-19 is firmly in mind with the program, it also seeks to aid developments for fighting future pandemics. It is the joint effort of U.S. Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). The accompanying legislation, the COVID-19 and Pandemic Response Centers of Excellence Act, was introduced by U.S. Reps. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) and John Katko (R-NY).

Under the legislation, academic medical centers would gain direct federal support for research, education, patient care, and community outreach efforts. A total of $500 million would be authorized to that end, with $10 million provided to at least 10 academic medical centers for their real-time response efforts to COVID-19, as well as future efforts.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has altered our society, economy, and public health systems, and we must do everything in our power to prevent and prepare for future public health emergencies,” Gillibrand said. “This funding is about building a comprehensive health and national security strategy to protect and equip the United States in the event of another devastating emergency. This lifesaving funding, accompanied by the bipartisan, bicameral COVID-19 and Pandemic Response Centers of Excellence Act, would provide critical startup funding to strengthen our nation’s emergency response preparedness as we battle the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and build resiliency against any future pandemic or public health crises.”

The bill, as proposed, would also create a Centers of Excellence administration program at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that would further pandemic responses. It would also encourage public-private partnerships that improve training, surveillance, outreach, research, and more. HHS would be given the ability to award grants contracts or cooperative agreements to academic medical centers for COVID-19 patient care, mental health resources for frontline health care workers, addressing health care disparities, public health endangerment research, and education as well as clinical trial and vaccine research.

“This pandemic isn’t the first that our country has overcome, and it most certainly won’t be the last, which makes it imperative that we invest in strategies and resources to prepare for the next epidemic,” Velázquez said. “The COVID-19 and Pandemic Response Centers of Excellence Act will provide funding to our academic medical centers so that they can research and communicate ways the United States can improve in its ability to respond to any emerging public health crisis and continue the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. By investing in the academic medical centers, which have historically been at the core of discovering life-saving medicine, we can strengthen our nation’s preparedness for any future public health emergency.”

The Congressional effort has gained major support from the academic and medical community, including such institutions as the Associated Medical Schools of New York, Cornell University, Louisiana State University, and the Infectious Diseases Society of America, among many others.

In a letter last week, the federal lawmakers pushed for a funding increase for the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund as a means of kicking off the Centers of Excellence grant program.