Led negotiations on the bipartisan Pandemic Preparedness and All Hazards package, which passed out of the Senate Health Committee
WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT), member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, applauded the passage of the bipartisan Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness and Response Act (PAHPA), which passed today by a vote of 17-3. Romney served as a lead negotiator of PAHPA along with his HELP colleague Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) and Senators Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Ranking Member and Chair of HELP, respectively.
During PAHPA negotiations, Senator Romney secured the inclusion of several of his public health policies, including a measure that establishes a five-year pilot program to create a real-time, publicly available website at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to track the spread of infectious disease with voluntary and de-identified data. The CDC established the Office of Public Health Data, Surveillance, and Technology earlier this year following Romney’s proposal for the creation of a Center for Public Health Data (CPHD), which he unveiled last year.
Romney also secured his measure to strengthen and expand the National Wastewater Surveillance System (NWSS), which coordinates and builds the United States’ capacity to track the presence of infectious-disease causing pathogens in wastewater by awarding grants to state, Tribal, and local health departments. This provision will bolster Utah’s already sophisticated wastewater monitoring technology by ensuring it receives the funding needed to continue to invest in new research and technology.
A full transcript of Senator Romney’s opening remarks can be found below:
I have enjoyed working with Senator Casey and his team, and also with the Chairman and the Ranking Member, on this legislation. It is an extensive piece of legislation and it is designed to put in place some of the learning that we have as a result of the failures of our response to disasters, whether it was the pandemic or other natural disasters which have occurred.
It’s not perfect. I’m sure we’ll have new lessons to learn as well. But I’m very pleased with a number of things—one, cutting off funding for research in China, particularly for gain of function research. I appreciate the new focus on public-private partnerships. I appreciate the fact that we’re giving states more flexibility to respond to natural disasters and to call in federal resources in a more accelerated basis.
There are a number of things that are very much steps forward. I’m particularly pleased that we’re going to have a better data collection system. I think a lot of us were frustrated that the only way we could get good data on COVID statistics was by going to Johns Hopkins. You’d think that maybe the CDC would have good data, but it didn’t.
So, there’s a number of these things we’re trying to address in this legislation. I would note that while [I’ve mentioned four names as] being associated with helping craft this legislation, I have failed to mention the fact that it is the staff that did 99% of the work and they spent a lot of hours, a lot of sleepless nights. And I appreciate the great work on the part of my staff and the staff of the other members of this working team.
It’s been an extensive process. I think it’s a step forward. I’m sure there are things we all wish we would have done better. But this, I believe, is a fair effort to learn from the experiences of the past.
The Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness and Response Act also:
- Extends the ban on federal funding of gain of function research conducted by foreign entities at facilities located in countries of concern, including China.
- Directs the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct an assessment of COVID-19 mitigation policies, including the impacts of lockdowns and school closures.
- Reauthorizes the medical countermeasure priority review voucher program, which has proven to be a highly successful tool to incentivize industry to develop innovative and critical medical countermeasures like the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine and smallpox treatments.
- Requires state, local, and territorial public health departments to solicit public input from faith-based organizations on their public health emergency plans.
- Directs the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to commission a National Academies study on the potential health security and infrastructure vulnerabilities posed by artificial intelligence.
- Makes necessary updates and gives new directives to the Antimicrobial Resistance Task Force and authorizes the President’s existing Advisory Council for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria to advise and provide recommendations to the task force.
- Requires HHS to establish a strategic framework to support domestic capacity and capabilities related to diagnostic testing.