Washington, DC Update

Posted 13 January 2022

ASTMH continues to advocate before Congress and the Biden administration. Letters that ASTMH led or joined include:
•  A letter with the IDSA, AdvaMed, ASM, Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, BIO, the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America and the Pew Charitable Trusts to increase funding for federal Antimicrobial Resistance in the FY22 budget. 
A letter with the IDSA, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, BIO, the Partnership to Fight Infectious Diseases and the Pew Charitable Trusts to the White House urging the Biden Administration to prioritize Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) in the FY23 President’s Budget.  

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Atul Gawande Sworn in as USAID Assistant Administrator for Global Health
On January 4, Dr. Atul Gawande was sworn in as Assistant Administrator of the Bureau for Global Health at USAID. Dr. Gawande was confirmed by the Senate on a 48-31 vote just before Congress left for the holidays. Administrator Samantha Power praised Dr. Gawande for his lifelong work towards promoting innovation in global health and noted their shared emphasis on taking a proactive approach against future threats to public health as a lesson of the current pandemic. Dr. Gawande’s appointment comes at a time where USAID’s focus is zeroed in on fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and Omicron variant by increasing and advancing global vaccine efforts. Dr. Gawande will assume his post at USAID as the agency’s remaining funds from the American Rescue Plan are dwindling. At a House State and Foreign Operations (SFOPs) Appropriations Subcommittee hearing in late October, the executive director of the USAID COVID-19 response, Jeremy Konyndyk, said the agency has exhausted much of their previously obligated funding and expected to have approximately $250 million left by the beginning of 2022.  
Booster Shots May Threaten COVAX Goal
Global health advocates have started to express concerns that increasing rates of booster doses administered in the United States, Europe and Asia could pose a threat to accelerating vaccinations in low-income countries.  COVAX ended up delivering approximately 800 million vaccine doses in 2021 to low-income nations, falling short of their announced goal when the initiative originally launched. Furthermore, the WHO’s vaccination forecast now indicates it will take until at least May to reach a 40% vaccination rate in African countries. The Biden administration and WHO had hoped to reach that goal by the end of 2021. Advocates are hoping the emergence of Novavax will help close the gap, but several regulatory and logistical hurdles remain for the vaccine manufacturer. U.S. health officials and the WHO had set of goal of vaccinating 70% of the global population by September 2022; however, it remains unclear whether that benchmark will be attainable. 
Pandemic Preparedness Legislation
Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) and Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-NC) of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee are reportedly working on drafting and introducing a long-awaited pandemic preparedness bill. The two Senators have been jointly working on the legislation since the spring of 2021 and are expected to release legislative text soon. While the details of the legislation are unknown, a committee staffer confirmed significant funding for the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority’s (BARDA) pandemic response efforts would be included. Another rumored portion of the bill would direct Medicare to reward beneficiaries who purchase American-made medical products, an issue that is gaining traction with many in Congress and the American public. 
Senate HELP Committee to Vote on Robert Califf for FDA Commissioner 
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee will vote this week on the nomination of Dr. Robert Califf to serve as Commissioner of the FDA. Califf will then need to be confirmed by the full Senate. Dr. Califf previously served as FDA Commissioner from 2016 to 2017 under the Obama administration; however, he may face more pushback this time around. During his committee hearing, Califf faced questions on his previous handling of the opioid crisis and steps he would look to take in the future if confirmed again. He’s also faced criticism over his ties to the pharmaceutical industry, specifically from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). In his HELP nomination hearing, Califf highlighted some of his priorities if confirmed as Commissioner, including improving streamlining FDA review of new products and COVID-19 diagnostics and working with Congress to develop new approval pathways. Dr. Califf seems to have enough bipartisan support needed to overcome the opposition, but both Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Sen. Sanders have said they plan to oppose Dr. Califf’s nomination.