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Harkin, Alexander, Burr, Casey Tout New Public Health Law Giving Obama Administration Ability to Respond Quickly to Burgeoning Middle East Respiratory Disease

Under Emergency Health Designation for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), Administration Can Better Prepare and Respond to MERS New Authority Granted in Bipartisan Reauthorization of Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act (PAHPA)

WASHINGTON, D.C.—U.S. Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, along with Committee members Richard Burr (R-NC) and Bob Casey (D-PA), today applauded the Obama administration for using its new tools under the recently-reauthorized bipartisan Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act (PAHPA) to respond quickly to the burgeoning threat of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

Using “emergency use authorization” (EUA) authority expanded under the 2013 reauthorization of PAHPA, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently announced that MERS has “a significant potential for a public health emergency” and has “a significant potential to affect national security or the health and security of United States citizens living abroad.” As a result of the EUA designation, HHS can now permit the “emergency use of in vitro diagnostics” for the detection of MERS.

“Our government and public health agencies need the flexibility to rapidly respond to emerging health threats, and that’s exactly what PAHPA helped do,” Harkin said. “As a result of the HELP Committee’s bipartisan work, our public health agencies are able to address threats, like the MERS virus, and keep Americans safe and healthy.”

“The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome is the kind of viral threat that requires extreme vigilance on the part of our federal health officials. It is encouraging to see HHS putting to use the new authorities granted under the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act reauthorization.  Our committee will work with local, state and federal officials to closely monitor the situation,” Alexander said.

“The 2013 reauthorization of PAHPA provided targeted flexibility to ensure that we are better prepared to respond to the full range of public health threats that may confront us.  The Administration’s response to the emerging MERS virus threat demonstrates the success of the PAHPA in better protecting the American people,” Burr said.

“The Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Act addresses the gaps in our preparedness efforts, and puts in place new critical measures to protect Pennsylvanians and all Americans,” Casey said. “The recent MERS threat underscores the importance of these new strategies in addressing emerging threats.”

The Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization strengthens our nation’s preparedness for and ability to respond to medical and public health emergencies, optimizes state and local all-hazards preparedness and response efforts and collaboration, enhances medical countermeasure activities, and reauthorizes key medical and public health programs, including the BioShield Special Reserve Fund. It passed the Senate HELP Committee unanimously in February, and was signed by the President in March. Additional information regarding the legislation can be found here.