Senate health committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R–Tenn.) released “Preparing for the Next Pandemic,” a white paper with five recommendations to address future pandemics based on lessons learned from covid-19 and the past 20 years of pandemic planning:

  1. Tests, Treatments, and Vaccines—Accelerate research and development.
  2. Disease Surveillance—Expand ability to detect, identify, model, and track emerging infectious diseases.
  3. Stockpiles, Distribution, and Surges—Rebuild and maintain federal and state stockpiles and improve medical supply surge capacity and distribution.
  4. Public Health Capabilities—Improve state and local capacity to respond.
  5. Who Is on the Flagpole?—Improve coordination of federal agencies during a public health emergency.

“The five recommendations outlined above, along with a series of questions at the end of this white paper, are intended to elicit recommendations that Congress can consider and act on this year,” Alexander says. “I am inviting comments, responses, and any additional recommendations for the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions to consider. This feedback will be shared with my colleagues, both Democrat and Republican.”

“In this Internet age attention spans are short,” he adds. “Even with an event as significant as covid-19, memories fade and attention moves quickly to the next crisis. That makes it imperative that Congress act on needed changes this year in order to better prepare for the next pandemic.”

Alexander quoted a New York Times report on March 1 that said, “Much about the coronavirus remains unclear and it is far from certain that the outbreak will reach severe proportions in the United States or affect many regions at once. With its top-notch scientists, modern hospitals and sprawling public health infrastructure, most experts agree, the United States is among the countries best prepared to prevent or manage such an epidemic.”

“Even the experts underestimated the ease of transmission and the ability of this novel coronavirus to spread without symptoms,” Alexander said. “We continue to learn more about the science and trajectory of this disease that is changing the response on a daily basis. In the midst of responding to covid-19, the United States Congress should take stock now of what parts of the local, state, and federal response worked, what could work better and how, and be prepared to pass legislation this year to better prepare for the next pandemic, which will surely come.”

“During the past 20 years, four Presidents and several Congresses enacted nine significant laws to help local, state, and federal governments, as well as hospitals and healthcare providers, to prepare for a public health emergency, including a pandemic. Congress received many reports from presidential administrations, offices of inspectors general, the Government Accountability Office, and outside experts throughout those 20 years warning that the United States needed to address the following issues: better methods to quickly develop tests, treatments, and vaccines and scale up manufacturing capacity; better systems to quickly identify emerging infectious diseases; more training for healthcare and public health workforce; better distribution of medical supplies; and better systems to share information within and among states, and between states and the federal government.”

“Looking at lessons learned from the covid-19 crisis, many of the challenges Congress has worked to address during the last 20 years still remain. Additionally, covid-19 has exposed some gaps that had not been previously identified. These include unanticipated shortages of testing supplies and sedative drugs, which are necessary to use ventilators for covid-19 patients.”

Read the full white paper including a foreword by former US Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist here.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is soliciting feedback from the public on the white paper until June 26, 2020. Feedback can be submitted to [email protected].