Congress approves $2.3 billion for pandemic readiness

Jun 16, 2006 (CIDRAP News) – An emergency appropriations bill that cleared Congress yesterday provides another $2.3 billion for pandemic influenza preparedness, including $250 million for state and local efforts.

With this measure, Congress has now provided $6.1 billion of the $7.1 billion President Bush requested for pandemic preparations last November. Congress approved a $3.8 billion package in late December.

The funds are to be used to develop and buy vaccines, antiviral drugs, and medical supplies and provide for a variety of other preparations, according to the bill. The measure earmarks $200 million for surveillance and other activities by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It excludes a vaccine injury compensation fund that the Senate had proposed earlier.

The $2.3 billion was part of a $94.5 billion bill, with most of the money going to finance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and to repair hurricane damage on the Gulf Coast. The Senate passed the measure on a vote of 98-1, sending it to the White House, according to newspaper reports.

House and Senate conferees had stripped a number of items out of the bill in response to Bush's promise to veto it if it totaled more than $92.2 billion, not counting the pandemic funding.

Mike Leavitt, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), commended Congress for approving the pandemic money. "These funds are a second installment in response to the President's requests and will be allocated in the most effective manner possible," he said in a statement yesterday.

"We will continue our essential work to increase our domestic capacity to produce pandemic influenza vaccine and antiviral medications," Leavitt said. "These funds will also enable us to further enhance federal, state and local preparedness efforts and to further strengthen the international public health infrastructure, which is a critical component of our global surveillance efforts."

Bill Hall, an HHS spokesman in Washington, DC, said he couldn’t' give any details today on how the money will be divided between different programs. "Probably just about all the money is coming to HHS, with a small amount to other departments," he told CIDRAP News.

According to the text of the bill, the money can be spent on:

  • International activities
  • Enhancing the pandemic influenza regulatory science base
  • Accelerating" pandemic flu surveillance
  • Developing registries to monitor influenza vaccine distribution and use
  • Supporting pandemic flu research, including clinical trials
  • Developing and buying vaccines, antivirals, and medical supplies

The bill specifies that $250 million is for "upgrading state and local capacity" and that at least $200 million is to go to the CDC for "global and domestic disease surveillance, laboratory capacity and research, laboratory diagnostics, risk communication, rapid response and quarantine." The money is intended to augment the CDC's fiscal year 2006 appropriation, according to the House-Senate conference committee's report on the bill.

The measure also authorizes HHS to build or renovate private facilities for producing pandemic flu vaccines or biological products, if the secretary finds such steps necessary to secure supplies.

Left out of the bill is a Senate proposal to establish a $289 million fund to compensate people for any injuries caused by pandemic flu vaccines, according to the conference committee report.

The legislation authorizes HHS to reimburse states for "a portion" of the cost of antiviral drugs they may buy under HHS-negotiated contracts with private companies. The conference committee report notes that HHS plans to subsidize up to 25% of the cost of 31 million courses of antiviral treatment. The committee suggests that HHS consider increasing the subsidy for states hit by Hurricane Katrina or other hurricanes last year.

See also:

Full text of the bill on the Library of Congress's Thomas site (search "HR 4939")

Dec 28, 2005, CIDRAP News story "Pandemic funding, liability shield clear Congress"

Nov 1, 2005, CIDRAP News story "Bush asks $7.1 billion to prepare for flu pandemic"

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