The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday advanced bipartisan legislation sponsored by U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks (R-IN) to bolster America’s preparedness and response to public health emergencies, including biological threats like emerging infectious diseases, as well as chemical, bio or nuclear terrorist attacks.
“I am proud this comprehensive bill ensures our healthcare professionals are trained to respond to possible pandemic outbreaks, prioritizes the further development of our national stockpile of vaccines, medical equipment, and diagnostics, and establishes new advisory groups focused on protecting vulnerable populations,” Rep. Brooks said following the Sept. 25 House voice vote approving the bill.
The Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness and Advancing Innovation Act of 2018, H.R. 6378, introduced by Brooks on July 16 with original cosponsors U.S. Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Greg Walden (R-OR), and Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), was among 38 House bills on the schedule to be considered on Sept. 25.
“The House took an important step towards keeping our families safe in the worst-case scenarios of a dangerous disease outbreak or bioterrorism attack,” said Rep. Walden, chairman of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, who initially asked Rep. Brooks to lead on the reauthorization effort for the committee.
“By working across the aisle, Rep. Brooks advanced vital improvements to our federal framework for emergency preparedness and made important and potentially life-savings reforms to modernize our readiness, enhance federal authorities, and improve information sharing,” Rep. Walden said.
H.R. 6378, among numerous provisions, would reauthorize and boost funding for programs under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to develop responses to pandemics and biological threats. The funding also supports drug makers in the research and development of medicines, medical devices and vaccines for use against man-made or naturally occurring diseases such as Ebola, pandemic flu and drug-resistant bacteria.
Calling the measure “critical to our national security,” Rep. Eshoo, who co-authored the proposal with Rep. Brooks, said H.R. 6378 updates the original Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act (PAHPA), which was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2006.
H.R. 6378 would direct federal agencies to respond to new and emerging threats “to strengthen our nation’s existing preparedness and response programs,” Eshoo said. This would include agencies such as HHS’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), which supports private-sector development of new drugs and vaccines.
Additionally, the bill would direct the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) to convene a meeting within a year of the measure’s enactment to determine “how genomic engineering can be used both in U.S. countermeasures and in national security threats,” she said.
Rep. Pallone said H.S. 6378 also would support “public health departments and their workforce, as well as the development of new treatments and the stockpiling of supplies that will be deployed to communities nationwide in the case of an emergency.”
Specifically, the proposal would reauthorize funds to improve bioterrorism and other public health emergency preparedness and response activities, such as those operated by the Hospital Preparedness Program, the Public Health Emergency Preparedness Cooperative Agreement, Project BioShield, and BARDA for the advanced research and development of medical countermeasures.
The bill also would renew these health-readiness programs but would change how some of the federal funds get spent, according to a summary provided by Rep. Brooks’ office. Health agencies, for instance, would be able to respond immediately to emergencies rather than being required first to ask Congress for federal funding.
Rep. Brooks pointed out that 17 years ago, anthrax attacks infected more than 17 people in the United States, killing five of them.
“Since then, the threat of a chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear incident has not dissipated, but instead continues to grow,” the congresswoman said. “Every day our adversaries are looking for more effective and faster ways to produce a threat.”
She said H.R. 6378 reflects extensive feedback from stakeholders across the full range of medical and public health preparedness and response, who offered suggestions on how the nation might best address threats more cohesively. Their feedback also ensures that in the future, “we have clear procedures, resources, and support in place to keep Americans safe,” Brooks said.
Importantly toward such goals, H.R. 6378 would codify the duties of ASPR, putting the office in the lead of these national efforts, but would maintain the role of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in emergency and response activities.
The legislation also for the first time would authorize and fund investments in programs related to pandemic influenza and emerging infectious diseases.
And H.R. 6378 would borrow a model from Brooks’ home state of Indiana that focuses on regional hospital preparedness and response planning, if enacted, and would focus on the pre- and post-emergency needs of special populations, including children, people with disabilities and senior citizens.
Rep. Eshoo said she looks forward to swift consideration and approval of H.R. 6378 by members in the U.S. Senate “so that it can be signed into law before Sept. 30,” which is the deadline to reauthorize PAHPA.
Following its approval of the bill yesterday, the House sent H.R. 6378 to the Senate for review.