Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah was one of the lead negotiators as a Senate committee worked to clear the reauthorization of the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness and Response Act.
The bill passed the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Thursday, in a 17-3 vote. Romney, a Republican, is a member of the committee.
“It is an extensive piece of legislation and it is designed to put in place some of the learning that we have as a result of the failures of our response to disasters, whether it was the pandemic or other natural disasters which have occurred,” Romney said in his remarks on the Senate floor.
He worked alongside Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., ranking member and chairman of the committee, respectively, as well as Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., to secure several important additions to the bill.
“COVID-19 showed us that we were ill-equipped to handle a global pandemic of that scale,” said Casey. “Three years after COVID, we cannot forget the devastation and fear we all felt, and we must be prepared to fight back against the next public health crises.”
The virus was the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2022, following heart disease, cancer and unintentional injuries, per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.
The bill seeks to establish a five-year pilot program, the Center for Public Health Data, to track and provide real-time data on infectious diseases, as proposed by Romney.
“I think a lot of us were frustrated that the only way we could get good data on COVID statistics was by going to Johns Hopkins. You’d think that maybe the CDC would have good data, but it didn’t,” Romney said.
Former United States Commissioner of Food and Drugs Scott Gottlieb previously tweeted that the measure addresses gaps seen in the response to the coronavirus and monkeypox.
Another key measure is meant to strengthen and expand systems that track the presence of pathogens in wastewater. As the Deseret News reported, wastewater data collection was an important tool to fight COVID-19 after an increase in the use of at-home tests that were rarely shared with local health agencies.
This bill will propel Utah’s already sophisticated wastewater monitoring technology and provide funding for more research and development.
Additionally, it includes provisions that strengthen the country’s public health system like requiring public health departments to take into account input from faith groups, expanding the representation of senior citizens and individuals with disabilities to advise the federal government, and banning the funding of research conducted in foreign countries like China.
The Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness and Response Act was first enacted in 2006 but drew attention during the pandemic when it steered the federal response to the crisis.
The American Society for Microbiology issued a statement saying, “the reauthorization of this legislation is an important opportunity to improve our nation’s ability to respond in a timely and coordinated manner to public health threats.”