October 23, 2020
WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) joined 136 Senate and House lawmakers in sending a letter to House and Senate leadership urging them to prioritize the development of thoughtful, forward-looking policy plans to prevent and mitigate the impact of future pandemics. In the letter, the lawmakers outline the steps necessary to prevent future pandemics while also noting that Congress must act to provide relief to Americans suffering from the current economic downturn and public health emergency.
“As the United States continues to weather the disastrous COVID-19 pandemic, we write to ask that Congress take action to learn from the mistakes of our nation’s preparation and response and lay the groundwork to prevent and mitigate future pandemics. The current Administration’s response has exposed serious flaws in the country’s ability to combat large scale public health challenges,” wrote the lawmakers. “In addition to passing a robust package to address the current crisis, we must take bold and comprehensive steps now to ensure the nation is better prepared for the next pandemic.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on communities across the country and has devastated the nation’s economy. Currently, the United States leads the world with more than eight million confirmed cases and over 220,000 dead, out of over one million worldwide deaths. Millions are out of work and struggling to make ends meet. It is clear that pandemics are already rapidly accelerating: animal-to-human outbreak prevalence grew six-fold from 1980 to 2010, and experts predict they will become even more common in the future. It is imperative Congress take bold and comprehensive steps now to prevent and mitigate future pandemics. Specifically:
· Congress must invest in domestic programs, systems, and supply chains that will help improve Americans’ health outcomes, combat the spread of new disease, and ramp up public health capacity during global health emergencies. This includes robust investments in state, local, and tribal public health departments; improvements to the Strategic National Stockpile; and the development of support systems, such as affordable housing, that reduce chronic health conditions and boost health outcomes.
· Congress must support global public health efforts to identify and mitigate the spread of new diseases before they become global pandemics. This includes ensuring the Administration protects the public by fulfilling its international commitments to organizations such as the World Health Organization; investing in global surveillance programs, like USAID, to identify emerging disease threats; and combating antimicrobial resistance.
· Congress must create 250,000 permanent, high-paying public health jobs to rebuild our depleted public health workforce and ensure the rapid deployment of contact tracers and other support workers during future pandemics. A lack of public health workforce has directly contributed to the country’s poor ability to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. These workers should be trained in key public health initiatives, such as contact tracing and disease surveillance, and should be prepared to deploy to their communities in public health emergencies.
· Congress must address the systemic racism embedded in our health care system and pass legislation ensuring that health care treatments, pandemic countermeasures, vaccines, and primary disease prevention measures are accessible to all. This includes ensuring that everyone in America has access to high-quality health care, mental health and substance use disorder treatment, and primary disease prevention measures; eliminating race and socioeconomic disparities in health care access; addressing the social determinants of health; and requiring companies that receive federal funding to produce pandemic countermeasures offer their products at reasonable prices.
· Congress must halt the environmental degradation increasing the likelihood of global pandemics. This includes combating climate change, protecting and restoring land and inland water areas to their natural state, and preventing dangerous practices contributing to the spread of zoonotic diseases with pandemic potential.
Today’s letter builds on Senator King’s efforts to reassert American leadership in global public health, and preventing future public health crises. In November 2019 – before the emergence of coronavirus – Senator King questioned the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) decision to shutter the PREDICT program that tracks emerging potential pandemics. In February, he sponsored legislation that would permanently create a Presidentially-appointed position to manage outbreak response efforts, develop a global health security strategy, and authorize annual funding towards that goal. Though a relevant position has existed through executive order since 2016, that position has been vacant for nearly two years. He is also an original cosponsor of the bipartisan Public Health Emergency Response and Accountability Act, which would create a permanent reserve fund to enable quick and effective responses to future public health emergencies. Senator King made public health the focus of the May edition of his Inside Maine podcast, highlighting the impacts that the coronavirus pandemic has had on the lives of Maine people, and federal, state, and local efforts to respond to the virus and keep Maine people safe. In June, he urged the President to reestablish the National Security Council’s (NSC) Global Health Security Directorate (GHSD) as a separate entity from the Counterproliferation and Biodefense Directorate (CBD).
The full letter can be downloaded HERE.