US Capitol
Mar 18, 2022

Senate HELP Committee Advances the PREVENT Pandemics Act

On March 15, 2022, the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee voted 20-2 to advance the bipartisan Prepare for and Respond to Existing Viruses, Emerging New Threats, and (PREVENT) Pandemics Act. The legislation was drafted by the HELP Committee chair, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and ranking member Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.). Only eight amendments were successfully offered in committee.

The PREVENT Pandemics Act incorporates ideas from 35 different bills related to public health and response capability. Specifically, the bill would do the following:

  • Create an independent task force to carry out a comprehensive review of the COVID-19 response.
  • Require the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary to establish a Public Health Information and Communication Advisory Committee to improve public health communication.
  • Improve public health preparedness coordination by clarifying the role of the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response and granting the HHS Secretary authority to coordinate and request support from other agencies during a public health emergency.
  • Update the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Public Health Emergency Preparedness agreements to better ensure coordination between health departments and state agencies.
  • Require the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to report to Congress on its activities to support mental health and substance abuse services.
  • Authorize grant programs to address social determinants of health.
  • Update bio-surveillance capabilities by modernizing public health data systems and updating HHS’ strategy and implementation plan to improve collaboration between agencies.
  • Expand genomic sequencing efforts and increase public health data availability.
  • Reauthorize the Public Health Workforce Loan Repayment Program to improve recruitment and retention and continue programs to support healthcare professionals and volunteers at community health centers.
  • Accelerate research to develop countermeasures for pandemic threats and study the long-term effects of COVID-19.
  • Improve the medical supply chain resilience and strengthen medical product stockpiles.
  • Modernize clinical trials and accelerate the Food and Drug Administration’s countermeasure review process during future public health emergencies.

Amendments

The March 15 markup made some notable changes to the draft of the PREVENT Pandemics Act. The committee voted to adopt a managers’ amendment and passed eight additional amendments, a brief description of which can be found below.

Marshall Amendment #5

Sen. Roger Marshall’s (R-Kan.) amendment would prevent federally funded research from collaborating with foreign institutions located in countries of concern. It passed on a voice vote.

Murkowski Amendment #1

Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R-Alaska) amendment would require HHS and other federal agencies to consider the economic implications of restrictions issued in response to public health emergencies. It passed on a voice vote.

Rosen Amendment #1

Sen. Jacky Rosen’s (D-Nev.) first amendment would provide continuing education support for health professionals in rural and underserved areas. It passed on a voice vote.

Rosen Amendment #2

Sen. Rosen’s second amendment would increase opportunities for manufacturers to adjust production to meet public health needs in emergency situations. It passed on a voice vote.

Rosen Amendment #3

Sen. Rosen’s third amendment would include nonprofit drug manufacturers in a study on incentives for domestic generic medicine production. It passed on a voice vote.

Sanders Amendment #4

Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) amendment would double the underlying bill’s funding of the Nurse Corps to a total of $177 million for fiscal year 2023. It passed on a 12-10 vote.

Smith Amendment #1

Sen. Tina Smith’s (D-Minn.) first amendment would enhance domestic manufacturing capacity for certain antibiotics by improving upon and building new facilities. It passed on a voice vote.

Smith Amendment #2

Sen. Smith’s second amendment would give Native American tribes and tribal organizations a noncompetitive set-aside of 5 percent for grants to address social determinants and health and health outcomes. It passed on a voice vote.

The legislation now goes to the Senate floor for consideration.