Rep. Roybal-Allard Statement at HHS Biodefense Appropriations Hearing
Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40), a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, served as acting ranking member for today’s subcommittee hearing on the Fiscal Year 2019 Budget Request for Health and Human Services (HHS) Biodefense Activities. The hearing’s witnesses were Robert Kadlec, M.D., MTM&H, M.S., HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response; Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., Director of the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Diseases; and Stephen Redd, MD (RADM, USPHS), Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response.
Welcome, Dr. Fauci, Dr. Kadlec, and Dr. Redd. Thank you for being here to discuss the department’s activities to protect our nation from biological threats that occur naturally or are developed intentionally by people who want to do us harm.
Today’s witnesses lead the agencies responsible for advanced research and development of medical countermeasures to respond to these threats. They are also in charge of coordinating the federal response to public health emergencies, working in cooperation with hospitals, state health departments, and public health labs.
Four years ago, when the Ebola epidemic was raging through West Africa, we were reminded that we are not fully prepared for a serious public health threat. We had no vaccine, and many parts of the country were unprepared to handle a patient infected with such a deadly pathogen.
In Dallas, two nurses were exposed to Ebola, and there were only a few facilities in the country willing to accept them. One of the nurses was transferred to NIH’s Clinical Center where she was treated by one of today’s panelists, Dr. Fauci. Dr. Fauci, let me say thank you once again.
Ultimately, Congress passed $5.4 billion in emergency spending to respond to the Ebola crisis, much of that dedicated to advanced research and development of vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics.
The funding was also used to improve our emergency preparedness and response networks, including the development of a regional system of infectious disease treatment units. Sadly, more than 11,000 people in West Africa died before the outbreak was brought under control.
We were very fortunate that only a limited number of cases came to the U.S., but I think we can all agree it is better to invest in advance so we are better prepared to deal with a threat when it arrives.
There is clearly a wide spectrum of threats that confront us. I imagine our panelists could give us an extensive list of chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear threats that keep them awake at night. Just last week, we were shocked to learn that Bashar al-Assad once again attacked his own people with chemical weapons.
And we continue to be confronted by new naturally occurring threats such as MERS-CoV, Zika, and the possibility of pandemic flu, among many others.
In the FY 18 Omnibus, we made it a priority to invest in biodefense and preparedness by providing large increases for NIAID, Project BioShield, BARDA, and the Strategic National Stockpile. But biodefense involves much more than simply developing and stockpiling vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics.
We also need enough well-trained epidemiologists and health professionals to identify, investigate, and track disease outbreaks.
We need enough laboratory capacity to analyze large volumes of samples and determine what pathogens are involved.
We need effective plans and enough supplies and personnel to efficiently distribute and dispense vaccines and treatments.
And we need the surge capacity in hospitals and other facilities to take care of large numbers of seriously ill patients.
All this work needs to be done through partnerships between federal agencies like CDC, state and local health departments, and the medical and first responder communities.
So while the Omnibus provided modest increases for CDC and ASPR grants to states and hospital coalitions, I think it’s worth discussing whether we’ve moved too far in the direction of drug development at the expense of other public health preparedness activities.
There are many important topics to discuss. NIH and BARDA have medical countermeasures in the pipeline; the Administration has proposed shifting control of the Strategic National Stockpile from CDC to ASPR; and the Administration has discussed a plan for a new Regional Disaster Health Response System—just to name a few.
I’m also interested in hearing about ongoing efforts in Puerto Rico, which continues to recover from last September’s devastating hurricanes. The remaining emergency funding provided in the Ebola supplemental will be fully exhausted next year, which means we need to discuss the best way to maintain and strengthen our investments in the Global Health Security Agenda.
So today, I look forward to a discussion of both the achievements of our biodefense programs and the challenges we face ahead. Thank you again for joining us, and I look forward to your testimony.