Tuesday, the Senate passed S. 3678, the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act. As part of this bill, the Secretary of Health and Human Services will be required to use information technology to create and establish a "nationwide public health situational awareness network." This network would be used for early detection and response to infectious disease outbreaks -- such as pandemic flu -- and other public health emergencies.

This bill outlines several areas of importance such as increasing public awareness and vaccine tracking and distribution. The Secretary must submit a National Health Security Strategy in which federal, state and local governments are to coordinate efforts to protect public health and biosafety. This report would also include an assessment of the preparedness of federal, State, and local public health and medical capabilities.

"This bipartisan legislation complements important work that we have already begun to improve the BioShield program, as well as our overall preparedness against the threats of pandemic flu and bioterrorism," said Health and Human Service (HHS) Secretary Mike Leavitt in a statement Tuesday. "HHS is taking important steps forward to improve the way we do business -- to make the biodefense medical countermeasure development and procurement process more streamlined, more transparent and more predictable, in order that medical countermeasures may be developed and acquired more quickly."

Also, through the National Health Service Corps, the Act establishes grants to "states for loan repayment to individuals who agree to serve in a health professional shortage area or area at high risk of a public health emergency."

Gina M. Scott  |  Writer