The HELP Committee today voted 20-2 to advance legislation from Senator Murray and Senator Burr to strengthen the U.S. public health and medical preparedness and response system
PREVENT Pandemics Act reflects ideas from 41 bills and 35 of Murray and Burr’s senate colleagues
Murray: “Time after time we have seen how our response to this pandemic could have, and should have, been better—and the bipartisan legislation we advanced today will ensure we do respond better in the future.”
Burr: “With this bill, Congress can help ensure America has better tools, better resources, and stronger leadership for the next threat we will inevitably face.”
Washington, D.C. – Today, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chair, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), and Ranking Member, Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), released the following statements on the HELP Committee’s 20-2 vote to advance the Prepare for and Respond to Existing Viruses, Emerging New Threats, and Pandemics Act (PREVENT Pandemics Act). The legislation strengthens the nation’s public health and medical preparedness and response systems and is the result of bipartisan efforts Senator Murray and Senator Burr kicked off nearly a year ago to examine what has worked, and what has not, during the nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill Senator Murray and Senator Burr passed in the Committee incorporates ideas from 41 different bills and 35 of their Senate colleagues including several added during mark up as amendments, the ARPA-H Act they introduced last week, and feedback on a discussion draft the Senators released earlier this year.
“Time after time we have seen how our response to this pandemic could have, and should have, been better—and the bipartisan legislation we advanced today will ensure we do respond better in the future. After all our families have been through, we owe it to everyone who has worked so hard to get us through this pandemic to take action so we are never in this situation again,” said Senator Murray. “I’m glad we are coming together and showing Americans there is bipartisan agreement we must learn from this crisis. I’m going to continue working with Senator Burr and my colleagues to get the PREVENT Pandemics Act passed into law, strengthen our public health and preparedness systems, and protect families in Washington state and across the country from pandemics like this one.”
“As we continue to evaluate the lessons learned from the pandemic, the central issue facing us today is how we can better anticipate the next threat we will face, and innovate quickly enough to rise to the challenge,” said Senator Burr. “This bipartisan legislation represents a milestone in our efforts to fill current gaps and build on the successes in our pandemic response. The PREVENT Pandemics Act includes critical and necessary reforms to improve CDC accountability and transparency to restore the public’s trust in the agency after its repeated failure to effectively communicate its decision-making to the American people. With this bill, Congress can help ensure America has better tools, better resources, and stronger leadership for the next threat we will inevitably face. I’m proud of the Committee’s diligent and bipartisan work. I look forward to the full Senate’s consideration to ensure our preparedness and response framework remains forward-looking for years to come.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused tremendous damage to families and communities across the country. It wreaked havoc on the U.S. economy, closed schools and businesses, devastated the nation’s mental health, exhausted public health and health care workers, and killed more than 960,000 people. The full cost of this crisis is devastating and immeasurable.
It has also put a harsh spotlight on some of the longstanding challenges the United States’ public health preparedness systems face and brought to light unanticipated challenges. Broken supply chains and inadequate stockpiles led to shortages of masks, ventilators, and other medical products. Tests throughout the response have been either critically delayed or scarce, leaving workers, schools, and communities unable to make informed, timely decisions about how to keep themselves and those around them safe. Outdated and inconsistent public health data systems made it hard for federal, state, local, Tribal and territorial public health departments to get a full picture of the crisis and inform their responses. The nation’s public health and health care workforce was overwhelmed. Mental health and substance use disorder challenges and health disparities, which were already damaging to so many communities, worsened during this crisis.
To address these challenges, the PREVENT Pandemics Act includes steps to:
Legislative text of the PREVENT Pandemics Act the Senators introduced last week is available HERE.
The text of the managers’ amendment the Committee passed is available HERE.
The text of the following amendments the Committee passed are also available.
Full text of Senator Murray’s remarks on the PREVENT Pandemics Act at today’s mark up below.
“Two years after the COVID-19 pandemic was first declared a public health emergency, we are in a better position today than ever before, to move past this crisis.
“Vaccination rates are up across the country. Over 81 percent of those eligible are vaccinated with one dose and nearly 70 percent are fully vaccinated.
“Case rates are down.
“Schools are open—with nearly 100 percent of schools safely back to in person learning.
“And people are getting back to their lives.
“But we all know how long of a road it’s been to get here, how many loved ones we have lost along the way, and how much damage a crisis like this can do if we are not ready.
“We all know how important it is we maintain the progress we’ve made and never go through this again.
“I will always remember when the first case in the United States was identified in Washington state two years ago, and the frustration of pressing for answers to questions families were desperately asking—like: Where can I get a test? Why aren’t they easier to find? Why do results take so long?—and not getting them.
“And these were just the first of many questions I heard from families throughout this pandemic—questions we frankly should have never had to ask in the first place.
“Time after time we have seen how our response could’ve—and should’ve—been better.
“After all we have been through to get to where we are today, we owe it to everyone who has worked so hard to address the challenges of this pandemic to make sure we not only prepare in the immediate term for the next phase of this pandemic—which I’ll get to—but that when the next public health crisis comes around—we are never in a situation like this again.
“Which is why Senator Burr and I decided to work together on bipartisan legislation to strengthen our public health and medical preparedness and response systems.
“And I’m pleased to say, that after nearly a year of working with our colleagues on this, the PREVENT Pandemics Act includes ideas from 37 different bills, and 33 different members on both sides of the aisle.
“These are bipartisan steps to strengthen our public health system by learning from what worked, and what didn’t, in our COVID response.
“For example, during this pandemic access to medical products—such as lifesaving drugs, ventilators, testing components, and personal protective equipment like N95 masks—has been a constant challenge.
“So, among other steps, the PREVENT Pandemics Act: strengthens the medical supply chain; supports domestic manufacturing; improves management of the Strategic National Stockpile; provides more transparency to identify potential shortages; and strengthens FDA’s enforcement authority against counterfeit medical devices—like fake N95 masks.
“I’d like to thank Senators Hassan, Baldwin, Murphy, Casey, Peters, Cardin, Cassidy, Durbin, Romney, Collins, and Braun for their work on some of these proposals.
“The bill also helps get safe, effective medical products like tests and masks to families faster with steps like simplifying the application review process for technologies that can be adapted to different needs and improving access to the samples of specimens needed to develop diagnostic tests—which Senator Kaine and Senator Braun have worked on.
“Another lesson to take to heart from this pandemic, is how years of biomedical research and sustained investments, that started way before most of us knew the word ‘coronavirus’ led to the development of safe, effective vaccines in record time.
“That’s why I’m glad I was able to work with Senator Burr in this bill to support cutting-edge, advanced biomedical research, by establishing the Advanced Research Projects Authority for Health—or ARPA-H—as first proposed by President Biden last year.
“And the PREVENT Pandemics Act also supports developing treatments and devices that may be needed in public health emergencies and antivirals for pathogens with pandemic potential, implementing best practices and strategies when preparing for and responding to emergencies, addressing antimicrobial resistance through increased laboratory capacity, coordination regarding the blood supply, and research on long-COVID which so many people are still struggling wit, thanks to the efforts of Senators Brown, Casey, Hickenlooper, Rosen, Luján, Murphy, Gillibrand, Smith, Collins, Rubio and Marshall.
“Another challenge throughout this pandemic has been outdated and incompatible data systems and incomplete demographic data, which left public health experts without the information they needed to make critical decisions.
“That’s why our legislation directs CDC to develop public health data standards, and work with public health departments to develop best practices for improving data availability, quality, and completeness. It also strengthens our ability to use data to identify viruses and new variants, and predict and prevent disease outbreaks.
“I’d like to thank Senators Kaine, Braun, Baldwin, and Romney for their work to improve our public health data systems.
“One of the early shocks I had personally during the pandemic was getting a text that my grandkids’ school was closing. Since then, I’ve been thinking about, and hearing from, parents with kids who are just not okay—and I’ve been pushing to make sure the policies coming out of Congress actually work for working families.
“I’ve seen that one of the reasons policies don’t work for parents is that too often, people making the policy decisions aren’t the ones figuring out child care or packing lunches. That’s why I pushed in this bill to make sure the National Advisory Committee on Children and Disasters—which directly advises the Secretary of Health—must include parents, caregivers, and teachers as members.
“I’ve been working to make sure parents had their voices heard throughout this crisis — so I’m glad we are able to take these steps to ensure they are heard during future health emergencies too.
“This pandemic has also stretched our public health and health care workforce thin, and made it hard for people to get care.
“Which is why the PREVENT Pandemics Act includes policies to bolster the workforce that keeps our communities healthy through: a loan repayment program for public health workers to support frontline health departments across the country; a community health worker grant program to increase access to care in underserved communities; increased educational opportunities for people seeking careers in fields like physical therapy, occupational therapy, respiratory therapy, audiology, and speech-language pathology; grants to improve trauma care, which can be especially important in rural areas; and more.
“I’d like to thank Senators Casey, Smith, Reed, Booker, Rosen, Murkowski, Collins, Tillis, Thune, Reed, and Moran for their work on provisions supporting local public health and health care workers.
“And when we talk about health care—it’s important we address mental health and substance use disorders too, as this pandemic has seriously worsened our nation’s existing behavioral health challenges. The stress, anxiety, and trauma of this crisis have been catastrophic. We’ve seen a large uptick in youth mental health emergencies, and a record number of drug overdose deaths.
“So I’m grateful to Senators Luján, Collins, and Casey for their work in this bill to ensure our plans for public health emergencies include plans to help people access mental health and substance use disorder services, too.
“We have also seen misinformation run amok during this pandemic, to devastating effect.
“When people are looking for information about masks, vaccines, and what they can do to stay safe we need to make sure they can find accessible, reliable information from trusted sources.
“That’s why the PREVENT Pandemics Act establishes an advisory committee at HHS focused on effectively communicating lifesaving, science-based guidance, and debunking misinformation during public health emergencies.
“I’d like to thank Senators Murphy and Luján for their work on this issue.
“And then, of course, we have seen inequities in our health care system make this crisis so much worse for so many people—particularly communities of color, people with disabilities, and rural communities.
“These communities were underrepresented in clinical trials, had less access to tests, vaccines, and other medical resources, had higher rates of infection, hospitalization, and death—and our public health data often lacked information necessary to respond to these trends.
“It is so important we address these issues—from top to bottom—which why this bill includes steps to: develop best practices in demographic data collection; modernize clinical trials, with options like remote trials that can be more accessible for underrepresented communities; ensure Tribes have direct access to federal supplies of medical equipment; identify gaps in our response that left out people with disabilities, chronic illnesses, the immunocompromised, and older adults; and support state, local, and Tribal health departments in addressing underlying issues related to health equity—like housing, nutrition, and more.
“I’m grateful to Senators Murphy, Smith, Warren, Menendez, Casey, and Scott for working to include some of these important health equity provisions.
“And in addition to all these meaningful steps to strengthen our public health system for future health emergencies, we all understand there is more work to do if we are to fully reckon with the lessons of this pandemic.
“Which is why this bill establishes an independent task force—modeled after the 9/11 Commission—to conduct a comprehensive investigation into the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and issue recommendations.
“I first called for this in March 2020—I feel really strongly about it.
“So I’d like to thank Senators Menendez, Gillibrand, Feinstein, King, Casey, Collins, Marshall, and Ernst for their leadership on this.
“And I’d also like to thank all of my colleagues, on the Committee and off, who worked with Senator Burr and me to strengthen this legislation.
“Finally, I’d like to say how grateful I am for the hard work and long hours put in by my staff and Ranking Member Burr’s staff. I will have more to say on this later as the process continues, but I want to take a moment to acknowledge and thank you all for everything you have done to get us this far.
“I look forward to passing this bill out of Committee today—and into law soon—to show families across the country there is bipartisan support for making sure we learn from this pandemic.
“And I hope we can work in a similarly bipartisan way to pass a COVID supplemental that shows we are committed to ensuring we have the vaccines, therapeutics and other measures to continue to have the upper hand in this fight.
“We have made great progress to get past COVID-19, and many people are finally starting to get back to some sense of normal. But we have to remember: a fire is dangerous down to the last ember—and absolutely no one wants to see this fire start spreading again.
“When this Committee started hosting briefings and hearings on COVID-19 I never imagined it would become as political as it has. Everyone in this room knows those politics have made passing supplemental COVID-19 funding harder.
“I hope my colleagues can continue to see this funding for what it is – funding to continue: making tests, treatments, and vaccines widely available; ensuring we are ready if new variants emerge; developing the next generation of vaccines and treatments; and supporting global vaccination efforts so we can stop this thing from spreading, and mutating, in ways that could put our country back in jeopardy. In short—funding we urgently need to keep Americans safe.
“These are the very resources that none of us want to have our constituents do without. So I hope we can work together to pass additional funding to stay ahead of this virus, stay ready for whatever is next, and defend the hard won progress we have made.
“And finally, while the PREVENT Pandemics Act takes important steps to strengthen our public health and medical preparedness agencies, COVID-19 has made clear there is work we need to do beyond this as well.
“For example, we absolutely need to follow up these critical steps to improve our public health and preparedness policies and processes with sustained, annual investments in public health, and with robust investments in pandemic preparedness and response like President Biden has called for.
“And beyond improving our public health and preparedness system, we need to take action with additional steps Democrats are pushing for on other issues, like ensuring people have paid leave that allows them to put their families’ health first, affordable, quality health care and child care, and safe and healthy workplaces, including strong protections for all workers, especially frontline workers—from hospitals and nursing homes to those in meat packing plants and grocery stores.
“And I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues on these issues, and so many more. I think it's so important that as a we nation don't go 'ugh, we're past this,' but we think 'what can we do to make sure we never go through this again?'
“And now I’ll turn it over to Senator Burr for his remarks.”