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Tuesday, March 19, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: TCAA Staff
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Measles Response Hampered by Emergency Programs Lapse at HHS

 

By Jeannie Baumann March 14, 2019 2:28PM ET

 

State and local health officials can't be reassigned to tackle the measles outbreak because Congress let a health emergency program lapse, the head of HHS's response teams told Bloomberg Law.

 

A number of public health preparedness and emergency response programs expired Sept. 30, 2018, when Congress failed to reauthorize the Pandemic and All Hazards Preparedness Act, which established a dedicated HHS agency to address bioterrorism and other public health threats. One of those programs allows the Department of Health and Human Services to reassign state and local health personnel temporarily during a public health emergency if their funding comes from federally backed programs.

 

"That is a very fundamental need of state and local public health," Robert P. Kadlec, Health and Human Services assistant secretary for preparedness and response, said March 14 after testifying before a Senate appropriations panel

 

One state health official dealing with the measles outbreak told Kadlec March 13 they use that temporary authority to respond to public health emergencies. The latest outbreak has grown to 228 cases in 12 states as of March 7.

 

"That's vital to their ability to manage measles-forget anything else," Kadlec said. "They don't have that right now."

 

Preparation, Response Abilities Limited

 

Some work can continue because the fiscal year 2019 spending bill for HHS includes money for the Biomedical Advanced  Research and Development Authority, which helps develop medical countermeasures, the Strategic National Stockpile of medical countermeasures, and the biodefense program known as Project BioShield.

 

Nevertheless, the current lapse in programming "does limit us in what we can do in preparation, and certainly it would impact what we could do in a crisis," Kadlec said. "It has effects on both sides of the equation."

 

Lawmakers have already done the heavy lifting to get the pandemic re-authorization bill, known as the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness and Advancing Innovation Act (PAHPAI), through the relevant committees during the previous congressional session. It would be the second such reauthorization of these programs and has bipartisan support in both chambers. The House passed the bill (H.R. 269) in January.

 

Senate Holdup

 

But a disagreement between two Republicans on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has stalled it in the Senate. The Senate has combined the pandemic response bill with legislation from Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) on over-the-counter regulatory reform measures.

 

However, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the lead author of PAHPAI, blocked Isakson's over-the-counter drug bill because of frustration with the Food and Drug Administration's proposal to ban most electronic cigarette flavors. Isakson blocked Burr's pandemic bill in response.

 

Kadlec highlighted several other programs that have gone away without a reauthorization, including antitrust extensions, a Freedom of Information Act exemption for certain countermeasures, and an advisory panel on caring for children that can no longer convene.

 

HHS Secretary Alex Azar expressed similar concerns during a March 12  budget hearing. He said the country's service for convening private companies that make vaccines and other medical countermeasures is no longer covered by antitrust exemptions that lapsed with the bill authorization. This means the HHS can't convene drug makers to coordinate the creation of vaccines in the event of a pandemic, he said.

 

-With assistance from Alex Ruoff


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