“There’s a difference in knowing something and realizing something. We’ve known for quite a while now that we’re too dependent on other countries for our medical supplies. But during this pandemic, I think we’ve realized it,” U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.) said at a recent congressional hearing on the progress being made in developing COVID-19 vaccines.
Two subcommittees of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee have moved their respective appropriations proposals for the FDA and the NIH, restarting a process that has worked smoothly over the past couple of years. Still, Republicans in both committees objected to the use of emergency funding mechanisms in lieu of more routine appropriations.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee met again June 23 to discuss the federal government response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and one clear signal that emerged from the hearing is that Congress will have to provide annual funding to build a sustainable infrastructure for vaccine development and manufacture if the nation is to deal appropriately with the next pandemic.
Before the lessons of COVID-19 fade into yesterday’s news, Congress should start preparing for the next pandemic, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) is advising. As the chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, the senator issued a white paper Tuesday identifying areas that must be addressed.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has posted a national COVID-19 testing strategy in response to legislation passed in April, and the plan suggests that 300,000 tests per day should suffice to corral the pandemic. That calculation drew immediate fire from House and Senate Democrats, who characterized the plan as an attempt “to paint a rosy picture about testing,” but they also pushed the Senate to pass House legislation that would provide another $75 billion in funding for testing and contact tracing.
The May 12 Senate hearing regarding the COVID-19 pandemic included the usual conversations about contact tracing, but Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he is “cautiously optimistic” that one of the vaccines currently in trial in the U.S. will work, but that it is unlikely a vaccine will be ready by September 2020. In contrast, Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir said testing capacity may reach 50 million tests per month by that time, thanks in part to the fact that antigen testing is now part of the FDA’s emergency use authorization mechanism.
The Main Street Lending Program (MSLP) was designed to ensure that small businesses are able to stay in business during the economic damage incurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, but Mark Leahey, president and CEO of the Medical Device Manufacturers Association (MDMA) says the program’s provisions are leaving some small device makers out in the cold, a predicament MDMA is working to resolve.
The stimulus bill passed by the U.S. Senate March 26 on a vote of 96-0 does more than throw $2.2 trillion into the war against COVID-19. “This is not … a stimulus package. It is emergency relief,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on the Senate floor before the vote.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) has posted new legislation that would bolster antitrust enforcement and deter anticompetitive behavior in the private sector, but the bill faces considerable opposition. Glenn Lammi of the Washington Legal Foundation told BioWorld that the legislation would blunt investment in the life sciences due to provisions that would make the possession of a patent an indication of legally actionable anticompetitive behavior.