News Releases

As flu-related deaths & hospitalizations increase in Washington state and across the country, Senator Murray leads Senate hearing to investigate the nation’s preparedness to address serious global health threats 

Senator Murray calls for Congress to reauthorize legislation aimed at improving response to public health emergencies, focus on science and evidence based-policies that have been proven to protect families

Senator Murray: In addition to improving our response to public health threats like the flu, “we must also make sure we are vigilant against pandemics of a global scale”

ICYMI – CDC: Flu Epidemic Apparently Peaking, Likely to Continue

***WATCH SENATOR MURRAY’S OPENING REMARKS HERE***

(Washington, D.C.) –  Today, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), top Democrat on the Senate health committee, questioned top U.S. health officials about the nation’s ability to respond to future public health emergencies. In the first in a series of hearings about the nation’s preparedness to handle widespread public health threats, Senator Murray cited rising cases of flu-related hospitalizations that have led to at least 46 deaths in Washington state as evidence of the need to improve the country’s ability to respond to public health crises, and criticized the Trump Administration’s failure to deliver an effective response to recent public health threats like the opioid epidemic and the public health crisis caused by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, where many Americans are still living without electricity and clean water.

Led by Senator Murray, the committee heard testimony from Robert Kadlec, Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) at Health and Human Services (HHS), Scott Gottlieb, Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and Dr. Stephen Redd, the Director of the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response at the Centers for Disease Control. A long-time supporter of strong investments in public health, during the hearing Senator Murray urged continued bipartisan action to strengthen our nation’s public health emergency and response capacity.

Key excerpts of Senator Murray’s opening remarks:

“Local Washington state papers show why today’s discussion is so important to families around the country—with headlines like: ‘Flu deaths and cases increasing in Pierce County’ and ‘Flu outbreak in Snohomish County kills five; 50 hospitalized.’ A bad flu season can be a nightmare for families and too often ends in horrible tragedy.”

“We can do better than the President’s offensively slow response in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands after Hurricane Maria. The storm left many Americans without access to clean water, electricity, or health care for months. We can do better than the Administration’s response to the opioid epidemic. President Trump declared the crisis a public health emergency 83 days ago, yet has taken little meaningful action.”

“We can also do better than our slow response in approving funding to combat Zika in 2016. The World Health Organization declared Zika a global health emergency in February. Instead of a fast response with needed funding, the response got politicized around some Republicans’ push to undermine women’s health care and access to contraception—a key requirement to prevent the virus from causing devastating birth defects. As a result, it took Congress nine months to pass emergency funding for a public health crisis endangering mothers, babies and families across the world. That delay hurt people. It harmed families in ways they will carry for the rest of their lives.  We must do better.”

Watch video of Senator Murray’s opening remarks HERE.

Full text of Senator Murray’s opening remarks:

“Thank you all for joining this hearing on our nation’s preparedness to combat public health threats as we look toward reauthorizing the Pandemic and All Hazards Preparedness Act later this year. I especially want to thank my colleagues Senator Casey and Senator Burr for their bipartisan work and leadership on this important issue.  

“Local Washington state papers show why today’s discussion is so important to families around the country—with headlines like: ‘Flu deaths and cases increasing in Pierce County’ and ‘Flu outbreak in Snohomish County kills five; 50 hospitalized.’

“A bad flu season can be a nightmare for families and too often ends in horrible tragedy.

“Just as we must continue improving our public health response across the board to prevent these tragedies on the local level, we must also make sure we are vigilant against pandemics of a global scale.

“Such a pandemic could infect half a billion people—more than the entire population of the United States. This isn’t speculation. It happened 100 years ago. The 1918 influenza pandemic was a tragedy more deadly to the human race than World War I. And today the threat of pandemic flu is joined by new threats.

“So what have we learned in the last century? Are we better prepared for the next global catastrophe?

“When you consider Ebola, and how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and so many partners supported Nigeria as they instituted evidence-based policies tracked the path of the disease and contained it when the outbreak reached Lagos, the answer is clearly yes.

“When you consider our strategic national stockpile, which can deliver 50 tons of emergency medical supplies anywhere in the U.S. in 12 hours, the answer is clearly yes.

“When you consider the FDA’s approval of new medical countermeasures to combat anthrax, flu, radiation, plague, and so much more, the answer is clearly yes.

“However, our track record is far from perfect. We can do better.

“We can do better than the President’s offensively slow response in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands after Hurricane Maria. The storm left many Americans without access to clean water, electricity, or health care for months.

“We can do better than the Administration’s response to the opioid epidemic. President Trump declared the crisis a public health emergency 83 days ago, yet has taken little meaningful action. I’m glad this committee will continue its bipartisan work to address the opioid crisis in another hearing soon.

“We can also do better than our slow response in approving funding to combat Zika in 2016. The World Health Organization declared Zika a global health emergency in February.

“Instead of a fast response with needed funding, the response got politicized around some Republicans’ push to undermine women’s health care and access to contraception—a key requirement to prevent the virus from causing devastating birth defects. As a result, it took Congress nine months to pass emergency funding for a public health crisis endangering mothers, babies and families across the world. That delay hurt people. It harmed families in ways they will carry for the rest of their lives. 

“We must do better.

“We are most successful at protecting our families against pandemic threats when we respond with quick bipartisan action. 

“We need decisions based in science and expert medical opinion, not ideology—especially when it comes to women’s health.

“We need federal, state, and local agencies to have the people, capacity, and funding they need to protect communities. Hiring freezes and funding cuts make us less prepared—not more.

“We need to plan for everyone. We can’t overlook the young, or the elderly. We can’t forget pregnant women, or individuals with disabilities, or those fighting chronic diseases like diabetes.

“We need innovative medical countermeasures to protect us from today’s threats, like a universal flu vaccine and antibiotics to combat resistant bacteria.

“And we must continue strong partnerships with industry that will allow us to rapidly respond to new threats.

“We need to stop fear and uncertainty before they create panic by getting families helpful and accurate information from sources they trust. We can’t allow anyone to undermine the science of proven solutions like vaccines.

“We need to respond to global health crises abroad before they travel home. Diseases are not stopped by borders, or walls, or bans.

“This is a place where the United States can, and should, lead. We should continue to show our international partners that we are focused on these issues and will be their ally in preparing for and addressing public health threats.

“Congress has a strong bipartisan track record of addressing these challenges through the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act, or PAHPA– which strengthened our nation’s public health preparedness, and created new roles, programs, and authorities for public health emergency response.

“Reauthorizing the Act in 2013, we built on that record and: enhanced medical surge capacity, modernized biosurveillance capabilities, and increased our focus on at-risk individuals.

“I am hopeful we can continue that progress with legislation that focuses on the science and evidence-based polices we know work to mitigate public health crises, considers the needs of everyone and puts women and families before politics, supports state and local public health officials, ensures communities don’t spend months waiting for needed emergency resources, and enables us to respond to the next crisis with foresight, rather than learn from the next tragedy with hindsight. 

“We don’t know what the next public health threat will be. We don’t know where, or when, or how it will start. But we do know that being prepared starts now. You all have a critical role to play in keeping our communities healthy and safe.

“The Food and Drug Administration helps facilitate the development and review of medical countermeasures, and grants emergency use authorizations for products needed on the front lines.

“The Assistant Secretary of Preparedness and Response guides our nation’s preparedness planning, helps ensure our health care system is ready to face any emergency, and invests in the medical countermeasures pipeline through the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is on the frontlines supporting state and local public health departments, overseeing the strategic national stockpile, gathering and analyzing key data, and serving as a trusted source of information to the public.

“I’m interested to hear from each of you about your work to fulfill these important roles and keep our country safe.

“However, I’m frustrated Director Fitzgerald is once again unable to join us. Due to conflicts of interest presented by investments, our CDC Director still has to recuse herself on some of the most important health issues we face, including issues related to data collection and information sharing, which are so relevant to our conversation today. I’m concerned that she still cannot give her full attention to all the pressing health threats we face and hope these conflicts of interest will be resolved soon.

“Thank you Dr. Redd for joining us in her place. I look forward to hearing from you and all of our witnesses.

“Thank you.”