Legislation designed ‘to create a unified national strategy for preparing for and responding to pandemics’
Congressman Brian Higgins, D-NY-26, on Tuesday announced plans to introduce the U.S. Infectious Disease Epidemic and Pandemic Preparedness Act. The bill would create an independent agency within the Department of Health and Human Services – the National Medical Command (NMC) – charged with preparing for, monitoring, and responding to pandemics. He said it would provide significantly increased federal funding for research into treatments and vaccines against infectious diseases.
Since the end of December, there have been nearly 2 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., and more than 68,900 deaths. With this has also com widespread reports of shortages of face masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment for frontline workers, along with insufficient numbers of testing kits and ventilators to identify and help those who are sick.
While clinical trials are now underway for a number of possible drugs and vaccine candidates for COVID-19, there remains no approved treatment or prophylactic against the disease.
Meanwhile, in February, when COVID-19 was already beginning to kill Americans, the White House proposed cutting funding to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the largest funder of medical research in the world.
Higgins said “The recently approved disaster relief bills in Congress provided additional funding to the National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for research into treatments and vaccines against COVID-19. These funds will help, but they will not produce the results we needed several months ago. The hard truth is that the federal government should have been making robust, sustained investments to develop an effective vaccine to protect against various strains of coronavirus when it was first confirmed as the cause of severe accurate respiratory syndrome (SARS) nearly two decades ago.”
The bill would address current pandemic concerns and plan for future ones in three parts: First, by creating the National Medical Command to be responsible for crafting a unified national strategy for preparing for and responding to pandemics, monitoring infectious disease outbreaks around the world, and functioning as a pandemic warning system; second, by authorizing the secretary of Health and Human Services to create a grant program for organizations to engage in community-based strategies to prevent, identify and track the spread of infectious diseases, with priority given to organizations working with high-risk populations including the elderly, children, the immunocompromised, and low-income and homeless individuals; and third, by authorizing the development of a strategic five-year plan to devote $5 billion of targeted funding at the NIH for treatments for and vaccines against infectious diseases.