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Menendez, Risch Introduce Comprehensive Global Health Legislation to Respond to COVID-19 and Better Prepare for Future Pandemics

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, last week introduced comprehensive global health legislation entitled the International Pandemic Preparedness and COVID-19 Response Act (S. 2297) to improve global health and pandemic preparedness and enhance COVID-19 response efforts.

“Thanks to the Biden administration’s efforts, we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel of this dark and tragic chapter that has taken more than 600,000 of our loved ones. But as the United States turns the page on COVID-19, that reality is still far out of reach for millions more living beyond our borders, where the pandemic continues to rage. We must commit to ending the spread of coronavirus everywhere, as it remains a threat to American lives and livelihoods as long as it persists,” Chairman Menendez said. “The International Pandemic Preparedness and COVID-19 Response Act enhances our ability to take robust action now and halt future infectious disease threats before they reach our shores. Only through better planning and preparation here in the United States and by supporting the same overseas can we protect ourselves, our communities, and future generations from emerging pathogens.”

“Over the past 17 months, we have rightly focused on the domestic and international response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including through the development and deployment of effective vaccines. However, this pandemic isn’t the first to threaten the American people, and it won’t be the last,” said Ranking Member Risch. “We need to enact stronger prevention and preparedness measures now if we want to get ahead of the next crisis, so Chairman Menendez and I have introduced bipartisan legislation to do just that. Our legislation will require a strategy to identify and close the gaps in global health security that make us vulnerable to outbreaks, create a framework to improve the coordination of U.S. global health diplomacy and assistance efforts, establish effective and transparent international early warning systems, and provide a framework for the establishment of an accountable, international incentive fund to advance global health security and pandemic prevention and preparedness. This bill builds upon 17 months of work, and I look forward to marking it up in committee soon.”

Reuters broke news of this new legislation on Friday.

Key provisions of the senators’ legislation include:

Responding to the current pandemic:

  • Recognizes that it is in the United States’ national security interest to work with partners to end the current COVID-19 pandemic, including by helping to mitigate the economic impacts in highly vulnerable countries and regions.
  • Provides for enhanced Congressional oversight of U.S. foreign assistance previously appropriated for the international COVID-19 response, including for the sharing of U.S. vaccines overseas.
  • Calls for detailed strategy on global vaccine distribution to ensure access to countries most in need, and for leveraging other global health programs to help bolster international COVID-19 response.

Enhancing strategic planning:

  • Requires the president to advance a comprehensive Global Health Security Strategy with clear goals, objectives, and lines of responsibility to better guide U.S. investments in global health security, eliminate duplication and waste, and enable partner countries to close capacity gaps.

Strengthening interagency coordination and diplomatic engagement:

  • Encourages the president to establish a Committee on Global Health Security and Pandemic and Biological Threats at the National Security Council, to ensure policy coherence and continuity of effort across the agencies engaged in international and domestic prevention, preparedness, and response.
  • Establishes a special representative for global health security and diplomacy at the Department of State, supported by a deputy at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), to lead diplomatic efforts, and ensure the efficient and effective execution of U.S. foreign policy and assistance for global health security.

Promoting transparency, accountability, and long-term results:

  • Prioritizes resources for partner countries with demonstrated need and commitment to transparency and results.

Strengthening USAID’s emergency response capacity:

  • Authorizes USAID’s disaster surge capacity and establishes the agency as the program lead on emergency humanitarian response and efforts to address second order development impacts.

Joining global efforts to develop vaccines for epidemic diseases:

  • Authorizes U.S. participation in and funding for the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, enabling the United States to join more than a dozen countries and private foundations around the world in a joint effort to develop new vaccines to prevent and contain epidemics, including COVID-19 variants.

Improving early detection and response of potential pandemic threats:

  • Institutes an annual intelligence threat assessment about transmission of potential pandemic pathogens to facilitate early detection and prevention of pandemic threats.

Creating opportunities for innovation and burden-sharing:

  • Authorizes U.S. participation in innovative partnerships and financing mechanisms, including the establishment of the Fund for Global Health Security, to catalyze public and private investments in global health security and pandemic prevention and preparedness and help resource-constrained countries strengthen health symptoms and improve pandemic prevention and preparedness.

Full text of the legislation can be found here.