Congress passed the first Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act in 2006 in response to weaknesses that Hurricane Katrina exposed the year before. In a statement, HHS Assistant Secretary Nicole Lurie said this federal support has provided more coordinated and effective response efforts, seen most recently through the successful evacuation of healthcare facilities after superstorm Sandy last fall and after a tornado hit the town of Joplin, Mo., in 2011.
Lurie also emphasized that the act provides state health departments with more flexibility in how they use staff resources during a disaster. As an example, she noted that staff members paid through HIV grant funding could be deployed for a short time to offer care to the public during a pandemic.
“In a pandemic or in an act of terrorism, our nation will need drugs, vaccines and medical equipment and supplies to protect health and save lives,” Lurie said. “PAHPA authorizes funding through 2018 for buying these medical countermeasures under the Project BioShield Act, and increases the flexibility of BioShield to support advanced research and development of potential medical countermeasures.”
The act also gives greater authority to the Food and Drug Administration, as it allows the FDA—even before an event occurs—to authorize the emergency use of certain products as medical countermeasures. Meanwhile, companies that develop these medical countermeasures—and the medical professionals who administer them—may be protected under an antitrust exemption in the act. “With this provision, these partners can step up in time of need and collaborate to provide our nation with the maximum supply of needed vaccine in the event of a pandemic,” Lurie said.
In December, the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation issued a report concluding that funding cuts at state and federal agencies have undermined progress made on preparedness since 9/11.
The advocacy group said in a statement after the bill passed last week that the reauthorized preparedness law “will go a long way toward addressing some of these gaps.”