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Biodefense Reauthorization Plan Signed Into Law

By Diane Barnes

Global Security Newswire

WASHINGTON -- President Obama on Wednesday signed legislation to reauthorize and update a range of medical readiness initiatives at the center of U.S. efforts to prepare against unconventional-weapon threats, including the possible release of a disease agent by a terrorist.

The Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Act became law about one week after the House of Representatives approved a version of the bill backed previously by the Senate, ending years of legislative efforts involving a succession of drafts passed between the two chambers of Congress but never finished.

The White House on Wednesday noted the new law "revises authorities for activities to improve public health and bioterrorism emergency planning, preparedness and response" and permits funding for an array of related activities through fiscal 2018.

The nation's terrorism and disaster defenses stand to benefit from "programs and flexibilities provided through the reauthorized law," said Nicole Lurie, the Health and Human Services Department's assistant secretary for preparedness and response.

Citing one example, Lurie said the text explicitly empowers the Food and Drug Administration to permit the emergency use of drugs that have yet to complete the agency's lengthy licensing process. "This approach supports more responsive, flexible, and streamlined processes before and after an emergency," she said in released comments.

The law also enables short-term reassignment of federally funded state and local emergency response personnel to disaster areas beyond their normal areas of responsibility. "For example, staff paid through HIV grant funding could be deployed for a short term [to] provide care for the public during a pandemic," Lurie stated.

Programs renewed by the enacted legislation include Project Bioshield, which seeks to fund private-industry preparation of new vaccines, antibiotics and other medical countermeasures as a hedge against a possible attack involving a biological agent or other weapon of mass destruction. The law permits up to $2.8 billion in funds for program activities between fiscal years 2014 and 2018 through the Bioshield Special Reserve Fund, which is scheduled for depletion in the current budget year. The money itself would have to come through separate appropriations legislation.

The law authorizes funding from fiscal years 2014 to 2019 for medical activities financed under the Public Health Emergency Preparedness cooperative agreement program, as well as efforts under the Hospital Preparedness Program to assist states, territories and localities in readying medical sites to handle an influx of patients in the event of a man-made or natural pandemic.

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