Recent action includes letter urging Congress to reauthorize the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act
Nov. 3, 2023 (ACP) -- While the COVID-19 pandemic has waned, the American College of Physicians continues to support clinicians and policymakers in identifying evidence-based strategies to prepare for future pandemics.
In an Oct. 6 letter to congressional leaders, ACP urged Congress to reauthorize the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act (PAHPA). “It would be a significant setback and a national health security threat for our country if Congress cannot pass PAHPA legislation this year,” writes Dr. Omar T. Atiq, president of ACP. “Therefore, the College urges Congress to work together in a bipartisan manner to pass PAHPA reauthorization. We are supportive of a comprehensive pandemic preparedness plan and policies to bolster the country's supply chain, health care system and public health data sharing capabilities.”
As stated in a press release from bill cosponsor Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), the legislation “strengthens the United States' ability to address future public health crises by investing in public health programs, promoting public health data and information sharing, strengthening lab security and pursuing new research.”
The bill includes provisions to reauthorize core public health preparedness programs, establish a no-fault reporting system for laboratories to create a safety feedback loop, support research and surge capacity during a pandemic, support ongoing wastewater surveillance efforts and examine potential vulnerabilities to health security posed by artificial intelligence.
“The bill is noncontroversial and support in Congress is bipartisan,” said David Pugach, ACP vice president for governmental affairs and public policy. Despite making progress in House and Senate committees over the summer, however, the bill has not yet come up for a vote in either chamber.
“The bill is slowed down by discussions around other health policy proposals that are being considered for inclusion as well as the broader legislative environment,” Pugach said. The House, for example, went several weeks without a speaker and was unable to conduct routine business.
“If Congress does not reauthorize PAHPA, efforts to improve the pandemic preparedness, including support for the development and procurement of countermeasures such as vaccines and therapeutics, would be impeded,” Pugach said. “It would also hinder implementation of policy updates that address lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
ACP is calling for Congress to reauthorize PAHPA without further delay. “It must also provide the funding needed to ensure that improvements to our pandemic preparedness, public health infrastructure, coordination with state and local health agencies, and the development and acquisition of supplies are ready for any future public health crisis,” Pugach said.
On another front, ACP has summarized the latest evidence on the use of pharmacologic and biologic treatments of COVID-19 in the outpatient setting in the second version of a “living, rapid practice points” document, published in October in Annals of Internal Medicine.
“The living practice points continue to be valuable clinical resources for internal medicine physicians and the health care community in treating COVID-19 in outpatient settings,” said Atiq. “As the evidence continues to emerge, updates to this guidance will help to serve patients and physicians and continue to counter misinformation through the publication of evidence-based treatments.”
In another recent action, ACP responded to a request by Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, for information about how to improve the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, improve the nation's response to pandemics and bolster public health infrastructure.
In an Oct. 20 submission to Sen. Cassidy, ACP called for integration of public health and primary care, the building of a stable public health workforce, data modernization and a comprehensive and unified approach to pandemic preparedness. ACP also called for policymakers and public health officials to address health equity and social drivers of health.
“Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, minoritized communities experienced a disproportionate burden of cases and deaths,” ACP writes in its statement. “Pandemic response plans should center on health equity and be considerate of deeply rooted disparities and address the social drivers of health. For example, pandemic response policy should support efforts to improve trust between public health entities and historically minoritized populations, as well as targeted, culturally competent public health communications. The CDC needs to strongly consider the geographic distribution and availability of testing, treatment and vaccination sites and ensure that all communities have equitable access.”