House re-ups funding for bioterrorism, public health

By Anthony Brino
08:08 AM

In late January, the House passed a bill funding several public health preparedness and monitoring programs, including bioterrorism surveillance and the federal disaster medical system, getting support from the biotechnology and public health communities, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

The Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Act (HR 307) passed by a vote of 395 to 29, in an act of bipartisanship, and continues funding through the next five years for the federal government’s biological, chemical and nuclear threat monitoring programs.

Biotechnology Industry Organization, a tradegroup, said the program, created in 2004, has been “an opportunity to build more prepared and resilient communities that are better able to withstand natural disasters, bioterrorist attacks and outbreaks of infectious disease,” in a media relese.

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The original legislation, passed not long after the 2001 anthrax scare, directs the Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response to coordinate the federal government’s monitoring of biological threats, particularly ones that might be part of terrorist attacks, and to stockpile emergency medicine and vaccines.

The bill requires a slight revamp of the program, directing the National Biodefense Science Board to identify a plan for a national biosurveillence system based on shared networks between HHS, state and local public health agencies and healthcare providers. The Board is also directed to identify and streamline any duplicative surveillance programs.

Although the monitoring programs evolved mostly from concerns overs potential terrorist attacks, the need for disaster coordination in public health was heightened in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and as climate change inundates some coastlines with harsher storms.

Biotechnology Industry Organization said the programs have “represented a major step in developing the role of America’s public health and medical systems in preparing for, and responding to, major emergencies, whether natural or man-made.”

The bill, sponsored by Michigan Republican Mike Rogers and Gene Green, a Democrat from Texas, would also sustain a number of other public health programs. It reauthorizes the national disaster medical system and the Public Health Emergency Preparedness Cooperative grant program for state and local health departments, with $641 million a year through 2017. HR 307 bill also directs HHS to make recommendations on coordinating pediatric medical care during emergencies.

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