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Alexander: Now is the Time to Prepare for the Next Pandemic

Says memories fade, easier to make hard changes when our “eye is on the ball”; also helps with current crisis

WASHINGTON, June 24, 2020 — Senate health committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today said on the Senate floor that “now, during this pandemic when we have got our eye on the ball,” is the time for Congress to act on needed changes to prepare for the next pandemic.


Alexander discussed some key takeaways from yesterday’s Senate health committee hearing — “COVID-19: Lessons Learned to Prepare for the Next Pandemic” — which featured testimony from former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Michigan Dept. of Health Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Former CDC Director Julie Gerberding, and former HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt, on how the federal government, states, and health care providers should prepare for another wave of COVID-19 and future pandemics, based on lessons learned from COVID-19 and the past 20 years of pandemic planning.


“For example, one of the things the witnesses suggested that we do is that we have a dedicated source of funding for stockpiles and for research. You think that's easy to do? I don't think it will be easy to get done. It took us years to pass the Great American Outdoors Act because of those kinds of funding issues. We're more likely to create a dedicated stream of funding for preparedness for the next pandemic if we do it in the middle of this pandemic when we have got our eye on the ball.”


Alexander continued, “Another recommendation was that we should have an office in the National Security Council to provide coordination between pandemics and during the next one. That's not easy to do either. When is the best time to do it? Now, during this pandemic when we have got our eye on the ball.”


“Another proposal that came up often was that we ought to build manufacturing plants for vaccines that we don't use between pandemics and that we ought to spend the money to keep them open and ‘warm,’ in the words of Gov. Mike Leavitt, so that they are ready when suddenly a pandemic comes. Remember, this one hit us fast. ...When is the best time to do it? Now, while we have our eye on the ball.”


Alexander concluded, “At the end of the hearing I asked all four witnesses to please summarize the three things that each one thought should be done this year if they could. As it turned out, they're all hard to do, and second, most of them will not only help with the next pandemic, they will help with the current one that we're in.”


Additionally, on June 9, 2020, Chairman Alexander released “Preparing for the Next Pandemic,” a white paper outlining five recommendations for Congress to prepare Americans for the next pandemic:


1.            Tests, Treatments, and Vaccines – Accelerate Research and Development

2.            Disease Surveillance – Expand Ability to Detect, Identify, Model, and Track Emerging Infectious Diseases

3.            Stockpiles, Distribution, and Surges – Rebuild and Maintain Federal and State Stockpiles and Improve Medical Supply Surge Capacity and Distribution

4.            Public Health Capabilities – Improve State and Local Capacity to Respond

5.            Who Is on the Flagpole? – Improve Coordination of Federal Agencies During a Public Health Emergency


Alexander has invited comments, responses, and any additional recommendations on the white paper to be submitted by Friday, June 26 for the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions to consider.


Watch Chairman Alexander’s floor speech here.