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Burr, Murray Announce New Oversight as Part of Bipartisan Pandemic Preparedness Effort

Today, U.S. Senator Richard Burr, Ranking Member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chair of the Senate HELP Committee, announced three new areas of bipartisan oversight as part of their ongoing work to develop policy proposals aimed at improving the nation’s public health and medical preparedness and response programs.

At the Senators’ direction, bipartisan HELP Committee staff will begin oversight and investigation aimed at the following: 

  • Identifying the greatest barriers to vaccination among communities of color, rural communities, Tribes, and other underserved communities, with the goal of identifying the most effective strategies to increase vaccine equity;
  • Assessing the root causes of supply shortages within the Strategic National Stockpile during H1N1, Ebola, and COVID-19; and
  • Reviewing information from federal agencies and relevant experts regarding the origins of the virus that causes COVID-19, and regarding how to improve the nation’s ability to assess the safety and security of biosafety laboratories. 

 “More than 600,000 Americans have died as a result of novel coronavirus, but the trauma and tragedy inflicted by this pandemic is sadly not over yet,” said Ranking Member Burr. “The Senate HELP Committee is preparing to draft legislation to implement lessons learned from COVID-19 and to address shortcomings in America’s public health architecture, medical preparedness, and future pandemic responses. As part of these investigations, Committee staff will be looking into the origins of COVID-19. This bipartisan, all-source investigation will examine the differences between a natural viral outbreak of animal origin and a possible release from a laboratory, leveraging information from federal agencies and relevant experts. Our goal is to provide a clearer picture of what we know so far about the origins of this outbreak, so we are better prepared to respond to future public health threats.”

“As we continue the work of ending this pandemic, I’m determined to make sure we ask the questions about how we got to this devastating point, and that we learn the lessons we need to learn so our country is never in this situation again,” said Chair Murray. “Questions around supply shortages, vaccine equity, and biosafety are among the many we need answered. I am hopeful these new oversight efforts will help us develop policy proposals that strengthen our public health infrastructure, improve our preparedness, and help ensure a more effective and equitable response to future public health crises. In addition, Congress should enact an independent, comprehensive assessment of our nation’s COVID-19 response—and I look forward to working with the Ranking Member on that issue.”

These oversight efforts will aim to inform bipartisan policy proposals being developed as part of the committee work Senators Burr and Murray announced in April 2021 on considering lessons learned during the COVID-19 response, and improving the nation’s public health infrastructure, medical preparedness and response programs, and capabilities at the local, state, territorial, Tribal, and federal levels.