Senate Eyes Action to Prepare U.S. for Future Virus Outbreaks

The chairman of a Senate health committee wants Congress to bolster domestic production of vaccines, commit funds to federal health research, and improve the country’s disease surveillance system, a vision he laid out in a paper released Tuesday.

Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, is aiming to prepare for the next possible outbreak of a deadly virus, using what lawmakers have learned from the spread of the coronavirus to beef up public health in the U.S.

Congressional leaders are already considering some of his ideas, such as how to create a disease-tracking workforce in state public health agencies.

Photographer: Jim Watson/Getty Images
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn)

Alexander’s paper is a jumping off point for a package of legislation the HELP committee will be developing with the goal of passage later this year, a spokesman for the senator said. Alexander is retiring at the end of this Congress.

Decades of cuts in public health funding have undermined the nation’s public health infrastructure, leaving health departments without the tools and the people they needed to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic, public health advocateshave said.

Preparing for a future virus outbreak, experts say, requires a consistent flow of money to health programs.

Alexander is both chairman of the Senate HELP Committee and a member of the Senate Appropriation’s panel responsible for funding federal health agencies.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Ruoff in Washington at aruoff@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bgov.com; Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com

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