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Wednesday, April 21st, 2021

Appropriations legislative package bolsters funding for nation’s biodefense efforts

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The U.S. House Appropriations Committee on Monday released the domestic priorities and international assistance appropriations minibus, which includes ramped-up final budget amounts for several biodefense-related items, including the Strategic National Stockpile.

In releasing the text of the fiscal year (FY) 2020 legislative package on Monday, House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) said the minibus is a product of bipartisan, bicameral negotiations that’s expected to be considered by the full U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday.

The minibus reflects conference agreements for the spending bills of numerous departments, including Labor-Health and Human Services (HHS)-Education, under which the biodefense initiatives fall.

Overall, HHS would receive a total of $94.9 billion, an increase of $4.4 billion above the 2019 enacted level and $16.8 billion above the president’s budget request.

The HHS funding would include a total of $8 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – $636 million above the 2019 enacted level and $1.4 billion above the president’s budget request.

The agreement also reiterates how important it is for CDC “to maintain a strong and central role in the medical countermeasures enterprise,” according to a division-by-division summary of H.R. 1865 that the House Appropriations Committee released on Dec. 16 along with an accompanying explanatory statement.

To help the CDC do that, for example, the bill would fund the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund (PHSSEF) at more than $2.74 billion to “support a comprehensive program to prepare for and respond to the health and medical consequences of all public health emergencies, including bioterrorism, and support the cybersecurity efforts of HHS.”

This would cover federal efforts around infectious diseases, with the bill encouraging the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) to provide information on emerging infectious diseases, pandemic influenza and antimicrobial resistance investments in its annual five-year budget plan for medical countermeasure development to help to clarify how ASPR is considering such naturally occurring threats in relation to other priority areas, according to the explanatory statement.

Of the CDC total, $173.4 million is targeted for global disease detection efforts, an increase of $75 million.

Additionally, the bill would make $535 million available in new funding for the federal government to purchase vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics for preventing and treating Ebola that would be placed in the SNS until 2024. This would allow the ASPR to procure Ebola medical countermeasures for the SNS outside of the existing annual appropriations.

While the new funding amount represents a sizable increase, it’s still far below the needed $1.2 billion for FY 2020 as outlined by the Public Health Emergency Medical Countermeasures Enterprise (PHEMCE) Multi-Year Budget submitted to Congress earlier this year.

The PHEMCE Budget is developed to reflect the actual needs for the medical countermeasure enterprise, including an awareness of the national security and public health threats that necessitate such investments, and it’s developed independently from other administration priorities to outline the nation’s actual funding needs for its biodefense programs.

Another $11 million would be authorized by the bill under the Hospital Preparedness Program to continue the National Ebola Training and Education Center and the 10 regional Ebola and other special pathogen treatment centers to combat high-consequence, emerging, infectious disease threats.

Regarding the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS), the Labor, HHS, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for FY 2020 bill calls for final funding totaling $705 million, an increase over FY 2019 when the SNS received $610 million, and more than the FY 2020 funding request of $620 million.

“Further, the ASPR would be encouraged to work toward novel stockpiling concepts, to reduce the overhead required to maintain the pandemic stockpile, and ensure that a safe, reliable supply of pandemic countermeasures are available,” according to the explanatory statement.

The increased SNS funding means the ASPR would be able to continue ensuring that the right medicines and supplies remain available for public health threats and emergencies, such as the anthrax and smallpox vaccines produced by the Gaithersburg, Md.-based Emergent BioSolutions Inc.

In fact, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) in May informed Emergent BioSolutions that it would start procuring the company’s anthrax vaccine (AV7909) for delivery into the SNS for potential use during a public health emergency involving Bacillus anthracis.

The SNS is crucial to America’s public health and natural disaster preparedness efforts, supplying large quantities of essential medicines, modular Federal Medical Stations, and other medical supplies to states and communities during an emergency.

If a chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear (CBRN) event were to occur on U.S. soil, then the SNS is the only federal resource readily available to respond.

The SNS also plays a vital role in federal responses to natural disasters, deploying medicines and medical supplies to places hard hit by hurricanes or floods.

For instance, SNS assets were deployed this year in response to severe flooding in North Dakota and other states, as well as during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which slammed Louisiana and other areas.

Because the threats prepared for with SNS assets are real, sources say there’s a need to fund the stockpile in a way that reflects the nature of the threat.

And as President Donald Trump’s National Biodefense Strategy states, “Biological threats — whether naturally occurring, accidental, or deliberate in origin — are among the most serious threats facing the United States and the international community.”

Increased funding provided for the SNS in the minibus package will strengthen U.S. national security, as well as public health and disaster preparedness by maintaining, replenishing and adding additional licensed products to the stockpile.