HELP Committee Pandemic Preparedness Legislative Brief

Recommendations for Development of Pandemic Preparedness Legislation from BU Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases Policy and Research

On behalf of the Boston University Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases Policy and Research (CEID), Nahid Bhadelia, MD, MALD, (Founding Director of CEID), and Lauren Sauer, Ph.D. and Syra Madad, DHSc, MSc, MCP, (both affiliate faculty members of CEID) recently offered recommendations to the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, led by Chairwoman Murray and Ranking Member Burr, pertaining to the development pandemic preparedness legislation.

These CEID faculty bring decades of experience responding on the frontline of emerging infectious outbreaks, running biocontainment patient care units, leading national special pathogens research networks, running national and international public health and pandemic preparedness programs, and providing input to our nation’s research, public health, research and biosecurity agencies.

In this response brief to the proposal for development “Bipartisan Legislative Efforts to Improve Nation’s Public Health and Medical Preparedness and Response Programs”, authors called for certain strategies and recommendations that can address these gaps and further the goal of pandemic preparedness.

The first of the group’s recommendations included the creation of a ‘warm base’ research and clinical trial infrastructure. In the absence of a readily employed and sustainably funded, unified, national clinical trials infrastructure, it remains nearly impossible — during an outbreak — to identify effective medical treatments and reduce patient harms as well as marginal costs of widely deploying unproven drugs.

Second, the group called for updating and incentivizing pandemic preparedness metrics for healthcare facilities first by reminding U.S. policymakers that public health within the United States exists in the public sector, whereas most of healthcare is in the private sector. The leaders called specifically for institutions to evaluate how US public and private accreditation and certification organizations such as Joint Commission and CMS can add metrics to evaluate pandemic readiness for private and public health organizations, to create incentives through CMS payments for private and public health organizations to refresh pandemic preparedness plans and identify logistics, resources and healthcare staffing plans. They how the need to employ crisis standards of care could be reduced by improving individual healthcare system resilience in emergencies — through the facilitation of improved regional partnerships, novel approaches to preparedness and response, and incentivizing public/private healthcare partnerships.

Authors then urged that future policy promote readiness and resilience for both healthcare facilities and healthcare workers through sustainable federal funding support for healthcare facilities to incorporate pandemic preparedness training and through support of mental health recovery programs. During outbreaks, public health and healthcare workers face immense social and mental health burden. Create and fund more programs for emotional and psychological support for frontline healthcare workers and public health workers during and after outbreaks. “After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the World Trade Center Health Program was created with funding from CDC, which in part covered mental health services for first responders involved in that crisis. Our nation’s frontline health workers have suffered sustained trauma over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. We need a similar program for their recovery.”

Lastly, authors underscore the critical need to include communities in not just pandemic response, but pandemic preparedness planning. The group urged federal and state governments to: (1) seek community organizations’ input and partnership on pandemic preparedness programs conducted by state and local public health authorities; (2) Require representation from patient and community organizations in key pandemic preparedness and research activities that are federally funded by private organizations; and (3) create a consortia of legislative, community and public health organizations that meet regularly to provide input on recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and discuss how lessons of this pandemic can be applied to create more resiliency for tomorrow.

The group submitted these recommendations with the hopes that policymakers continue to prioritize the improvement of resilience of our nation’s healthcare system against threats of emerging and epidemic infections. The leaders look forward to continuing the conversation with the policymakers and welcome future discussions.

The full report is available here.