Washington, DC Update

Posted 14 November 2022

ASTMH continues to advocate before Congress and the Biden administration. Letters that ASTMH led or joined include:
  • Letters urging congressional appropriators to support robust federal funding for global health, nutrition, water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), and biosafety and biosecurity programs in the final FY23 spending bill.
  • A letter urging House and Senate appropriators to support strong federal funding for CDC programs in the final FY23 Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies appropriations bill and finalize the FY23 appropriations process as quickly as possible.
  • A letter urging House and Senate leadership to enact key provisions of the Prepare for and Respond to Existing Viruses, Emerging New Threats, and Pandemics Act (PREVENT Pandemics Act) by the end of the year.

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As of this writing, the balance of power in Congress remains undecided due to tight races in the House that are still too close to call. Republicans are slowly inching toward recapturing a narrow House majority. We know that Democrats will retain control of the U.S. Senate by a minimum of 50 seats, plus Vice President Harris’s vote to break ties when necessary. Senate Democrats will have an opportunity to pick up an additional seat in the December 6 runoff election between incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) and challenger Herschel Walker (R). Overall, Democrats exceeded expectations and bucked historical trends that the President’s party typically loses seats in the midterm elections. Once the election dust settles, Congress will return to Capitol Hill for a jam-packed lame-duck session focused on passing a government funding pill ahead of the December 16 expiration, passing the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and other legislative priorities. Leadership and committee assignments for the 118th Congress will not be formally decided until the start of the new session.

PASTEUR Act Added as Amendment to NDAA
The Pioneering Antimicrobial Subscriptions to End Upsurging Resistance (PASTEUR) Act was submitted for consideration as an amendment to the FY 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The NDAA is widely expected to be taken up by the Senate during the lame-duck session—the period after the midterm elections and the start of the new Congress—and may serve as a key legislative vehicle to get the PASTEUR Act over the finish line. The PASTEUR Act would help incentivize much-needed antibiotic development to respond to the growing global crisis of antimicrobial resistance (AMR). The bipartisan bill was recently re-introduced in the Senate in June 2021 but has since stalled.
Senate Republicans Release Report on Origins of COVID-19
The Republican staff of the Senate HELP Committee recently released an initial report titled “An Analysis of the Origins of the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Senate HELP Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-NC) was the only member to sign the report. The report suggests that the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic was “most likely the result of a research-related incident.” This “lab-leak” conclusion—while not intended to be “dispositive”—undermines other leading hypotheses that argue the outbreak was the result of a natural spillover of the virus from animals to humans. It is unclear when the final staff report will be published.

House Releases Report on Trump Administration’s Interference in CDC COVID-19 Response
The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, chaired by Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), recently released its latest report investigating the Trump Administration’s interference in U.S. COVID-19 response. The report details efforts by the former administration to disrupt the CDC’s coronavirus response, including delaying or altering public health guidance and undermining top public health officials at the agency. “The Select Subcommittee’s investigation has shown that the previous administration engaged in an unprecedented campaign of political interference in the federal government’s pandemic response, which undermined public health to benefit the former President’s political goals,” Chairman Clyburn said in a statement.

White Houses Names Pandemic Accord Negotiator
Former Ambassador to the United Nations Pamela Hamamoto was selected to serve as the U.S. Pandemic Negotiator on the proposed accord on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response currently before the World Health Organization. In a joint statement by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra, the naming of Ambassador Hamamoto “reflects the commitment by the United States to take a whole-of-government approach to the negotiating process by putting into place a strong team…” Ambassador Hamamoto previously served as U.S. Permanent Representative to the Office of the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva and also helped coordinate early responses to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2015.

Head of USAID COVID-19 Task Force Steps Down
Jeremy Konyndyk, Executive Director of USAID’s COVID-19 Task Force, recently announced that he will be stepping down to serve as the new president of Refugees International, an independent advocacy organization that assists refugees and displaced people worldwide.

U.S. Surgeon General nominated to serve on WHO Executive Board
U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy was nominated by President Biden to serve as U.S. Representative on the Executive Board of the World Health Organization. If confirmed by the Senate, Dr. Vivek Murthy will serve on the WHO Executive Board, alongside his duties as Surgeon General. In an interview with Reuters, Murthy said that, if confirmed, he will “continue to elevate U.S leadership on the global stage and ensure public health is at the forefront of our planning and preparation for global challenges.”
ARPA-H Director Shares Vision for New Biomedical Agency at Agency Launch Event
Dr. Renee Wegrzyn, the inaugural director of the newly established Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (or ARPA-H), recently outlined expectations for the new biomedical agency. At a launch event, she noted that the agency will focus on equity, scalability and affordability. Wegrzyn also stated that she intends to bring on program managers who will be staffed on projects for short periods of time and lead teams that work across sectors. She indicated that her top priority is identifying the program managers, as they will be integral to kickstarting the work of the agency.

White House Releases Biodefense Strategy
The White House recently released its National Biodefense Strategy. The plan will help coordinate U.S. response to pandemic preparedness and other future biological threats. The plan will be implemented through a national security memo signed by President Biden, known as the NSM-15, which directs top U.S. officials at over 20 federal agencies to “prepare for, prevent, detect, respond to and recover from biological threats at home and abroad.” The plan builds on the 2018 National Biodefense Strategy and other policy frameworks issued by the administration, including the American Pandemic Preparedness Plan. The new strategy seeks to strengthen pandemic preparedness capabilities by increasing vaccine uptake rates through evidence-based public health messaging and education campaigns, accelerating development and deployment of diagnostics, boosting equitable delivery of vaccines and treatments, strengthening public health surveillance, investing in biotechnology R&D, and other measures to support U.S. biopreparedness and pandemic preparedness.

White House Releases National Security Strategy
The White House recently released its new National Security Strategy. Within the strategy, there are several notable global health areas of focus: 1) An Inclusive World (pg.18-19); Pandemics and Biodefense (pg.28-29); and 3) Technology (pg.32-33). These sections broadly advocate for U.S. commitments to improving global health security, accelerating vaccine development and access, and increasing investments in cutting-edge science and emerging technologies.

U.S. Develops Experimental Ebola Vaccine for Uganda
Scientists at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases have helped develop a new vaccine to address the Ebola outbreak in Uganda. The vaccine candidate, developed by NIAID’s Vaccine Research Center, is licensed to the Sabin Vaccine Institute. According to the CDC, the U.S. has a small number of doses of the Sabin vaccine available for deployment and is working to expediate the fill and finish of an additional 7,000–9,000 doses. The NIAID-led vaccine candidate has already completed Phase I clinical trials and plans for a Phase 2 are already underway.