Senate Committee working to reauthorize the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act

A Senate Committee recently began working to reauthorize the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act by calling public health officials to testify as to what changes are needed to prepare the nation against influenza and bioterror threats.

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions held the hearing. Among its members are two authors of the legislation, Sen. Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) and Sen. Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-Pennsylvania), according to CIDRAP News.

The original legislation was passed by Congress in 2006 against the backdrop of the H5N1 influenza virus. It established the Biodefense Advanced Research and Development Authority within the Department of Health and Human Services.

"It's critical this committee take a hard look at what's working well and what's not working well," Burr said, CIDRAP News reports. "We've come a long way, but more work needs to be done."

Burr voiced his concerns over budget cuts to preparedness programs and how the Obama administration appears to be prioritizing threats to the nation. Burr said lawmakers need to ensure the continuity of U.S. preparedness.

Nicole Lurie, the assistant secretary for preparedness and response within HHS, also appeared before the committee. Lurie said PAHPA provisions were tested in the national response to the 2009 H1N1 pandemic. She said the law has led to a more flexible and timely countermeasure deployment and that the cooperative agreement element of the legislation has helped state public health systems become more resilient.

When questioned about the business climate for companies, especially smaller ones, working to develop countermeasures, Lurie said that HHS has dramatically changed its management of contracts to speed up the process, CIDRAP News reports. She said that BARDA officials have collaborated with officials from the Department of Defense to review portfolios.

Robert Kadlec, president George W. Bush’s bioterrorism advisor, told legislators in written testimony that it would be helpful if HHS outlined its countermeasure priorities with regards to its multiyear budgets.

"Congress should clearly articulate that development of medical countermeasures is a national security priority and that funding for these efforts be treated as national security and/or homeland security spending,” Phyllis Arthur, the senior director of vaccines and diagnostics at the Biotechnology Industry Organization, said in written testimony, according to CIDRAP News.