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Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Bill Passes House and Senate

The Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness and Advancing Innovation Act would support the public-private partnerships necessary to develop important vaccines, therapeutics and devices for chemical and biological events.

With passage of the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness and Advancing Innovation Act (PAHPA), by the House and Senate, the President’s signature is all that is needed for the reauthorization of federal biodefense programs created after 9/11.

The bill reauthorizes the Public Health Emergency Preparedness grant program, the Hospital Preparedness Program and Strategic National Stockpile. It also facilitates public-private partnerships that enable the federal government to procure or spawn development of vaccines, therapeutics and devices to respond to natural and manmade bio and chemical events.

Those include events involving anthrax, smallpox, botulism, Ebola, Marburg virus, pandemic flu, and other types of exotic and infectious diseases.

“We believe it’s a really important part of making sure the U.S. government is prepared to respond to events, whether they are manmade, or naturally occurring, or biological or infectious disease types,” said Chris Frech, co-chair of the Alliance for Biosecurity. “Clearly the reauthorization of these programs provides the tools to the government as part of that public-private partnership to be able to build those relationships to prepare and respond. “

To be able to develop the necessary tools and products to respond to a chemical or biological event, the government needs industry to develop these products, and industry needs government for authorization of funding, for procurement helping with development of a product. The government needs industry to develop these solutions.

“The government can’t do these things on its own because of the nature of the markets, and industry can’t do it without the clarity from government because they are in fact creating the market for these products,” Frech said.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has a material threat list, what it sees as the top threats, and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has the responsibility of developing medical countermeasures for those potential threats.

The measures include developing the necessary antibiotics and vaccines for pre- and post-event scenarios, and therapeutics for when the antibiotics and vaccines aren’t working. And HHS will determine what needs to be in the Strategic National Stockpile.

“We’ll go through that for all of our different threats and build out strategies and what needs to be in the stockpile,” said Frech. “For many of these threats, if we don’t have the product available before the threat occurs, it’s too late.”

The threats are present and becoming more of a possibility, so readiness is essential, Frech said. He said the list of threats is growing and expanding the risk, which comes down to two factors: intent and capability.

“What we know from the testimony and research by subject-matter experts is everybody believes there are bad actors out there with the intent, and the cost of the capability continues to diminish so it becomes easier and easier to do these things.”

As examples that the capability is there, he cited the poisoning of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s half-brother in 2017 and the poisoning of a former Russian military officer, also a double agent, and his daughter in Salisbury, England, in 2018, as well as other attacks.
“We may have dodged a bullet thus far, but most believe it’s a question of when it will happen, not if,” he said.

The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) praised the legislation, saying it would benefit local health departments’ efforts to prepare for, respond to and mitigate disasters like the wildfires in California, tornadoes in the Midwest, hurricanes in the South and bioterror threats and disease outbreaks. 

“We are particularly pleased that this bipartisan legislation includes key NACCHO priorities like the Public Health Emergency Preparedness Program and Hospital Preparedness Program, which help local communities be prepared for any disaster they may face,” said NACCHO’s chief of government and public affairs, Adriane Casalotti in a statement.

Casalotti added that the legislation is an important step, but that federal funds have declined in the last decade and strong funding and consistent support will be critical to sustain the preparedness programs.