There’s no doubt that medical researchers are ready to study emerging viruses and begin to understand how they’ll affect us.
Where we fell behind with the novel coronavirus pandemic is in how we responded to it. Mixed messages offered early in the process about safety measures contributed to gaps in handling the crisis and left more than a few people suspicious of what they were told.
U.S. Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., is promoting legislation to help us deal with future pandemics. It would bolster efforts to confront new variants of the coronavirus and be better prepared for new ones.
Through the COVID-19 and Pandemic Response Centers of Excellence Act, $500 million would be allocated to achieve these goals. This would include $10 million for at least 10 academic medical centers.
“The funding would first be used to lead active response efforts to COVID-19, then to prepare for future pandemics,” according to a story published Dec. 12 by the Watertown Daily Times. “As viruses evolve, [Gillibrand] said, it remains important for scientific understanding of them to keep pace in part by monitoring new variants and understanding the impacts of ‘long-haul COVID,’ in which people infected by the virus retain symptoms for months even after testing negative for the active virus. The legislation the senator is spearheading now would allow the Department of Health and Human Services to award grants, contracts and cooperative agreements with academic institutions, financing research into everything from patient care to mental health care for medical workers working through the pandemic. It would also finance research into the nation’s public health framework to prepare it to withstand potential future pandemics and invest in future vaccine research. The legislation is written to direct these research programs and investments to take into consideration the challenges of delivering health care to rural communities and the challenges faced by minority groups. … The legislation has the support of Republican and Democrat senators and [members of the U.S. House of Representatives] as well as the endorsements of the AARP, the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the Associated Medical Schools of New York, various public and private academic health centers around the nation and the State University of New York.”
“The Omicron variant, and the recent news that cases of the variant have been confirmed in New York, are a reminder that COVID is not over and that tackling pandemics and public health challenges is – and will be – an ongoing effort. Viruses evolve and our ability to respond must evolve alongside them – whether that’s our ability to monitor and meet the needs of COVID long-haulers, track new variants like Omicron, or prepare for the next public health emergency,” Gillibrand said in a news release issued by her office Dec. 5. “The bipartisan, bicameral COVID-19 and Pandemic Response Centers of Excellence Act would provide critical startup funding to strengthen our nation’s emergency response preparedness as we battle the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, improve our response to new variants and build resiliency against any future pandemics or public health crises.”
This is a promising proposal that would make critical funding available for ongoing research into the coronavirus and future public health threats. Those who oversee the funding should be particularly attentive to new avenues of investigation that will reveal aspects of the virus we don’t already know.
We urge federal legislators to support this bill and send it to President Joe Biden for his signature. Efforts like this will help us be more prepared for the next pandemic.