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An airline passengers wears a mask in the terminal area of Orlando International Airport on Wednesday, March 4, 2020, in Orlando, Fla. Many travellers are wearing masks because of the coronavirus outbreak. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel via AP)
By The Skanner News
Published: 04 March 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, announced today that the House and Senate have reached a bipartisan agreement on an $8.3 billion package of emergency funding to help contain and fight the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Merkley, as the top Democrat on the Appropriations subcommittee that funds the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), worked with his counterparts to write Title I of the bill, including emergency authorizations and $61 million in new funding for FDA to help protect Americans from this emerging public health threat. He also pushed strongly to secure more funding for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), small business disaster loans, reimbursements for state and local government expenses incurred fighting the coronavirus, and support for tribal governments—all of which are included in the package.

“Americans and Oregonians deserve a federal government that is doing everything we can to protect our communities from the coronavirus,” Merkley said. “While the CDC and public health professionals are working hard to meet this challenge, the administration’s overall response has been disorganized and dangerously inadequate. Today, Congress is coming together on a bipartisan basis to bring the resources and urgency we need to tackle this crisis. I will continue doing everything I can to keep Oregonians safe and informed, and I will be pushing to pass this bill and get it signed into law without delay.”

Last Thursday, Merkley launched a coronavirus resource page for Oregonians, which includes information on risk of exposure, prevention and treatment, and steps that he is taking to push the federal government to respond effectively and with urgency. That resource, which is being updated regularly, can be found at www.merkley.senate.gov/coronavirus.

“I’d like to thank Senator Merkley, as well as Senator Wyden and Oregon’s congressional delegation, for displaying unhesitating leadership in bringing together this bipartisan agreement to protect the health and safety of our families and communities across the state,” said Oregon’s Governor Kate Brown. “In the face of this global health crisis, this emergency funding package will provide additional support to our health professionals as they address the immediate concerns of identifying, treating, and containing novel coronavirus cases in Oregon, and will put us on the path for the long-term containment of this disease.”

“As we watch this virus spread, the leadership of Senator Merkley is crucial and we thank him. The mask shortage is impacting healthcare workers even this moment as they are not fully protected from the speared of the virus,” said Adrienne Enghouse, RN and President of the Oregon Federation of Nurses & Health Professionals (OFNHP) Local 5071. “This bill is a template for all potential epidemics now and in the future.

"We need all elements of this bill put into place immediately to ensure front line workers and our communities are safe.”

“Healthcare workers are on the frontlines fighting COVID-19. Ensuring that they are adequately protected is a critical step to prevent the spread of the disease.

"If we can’t protect our healthcare workforce then we can’t protect our patients.

"I thank Sen. Jeff Merkley for his efforts to ensure our members have the resources they need in the COVID-19 emergency spending bill,” said Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents 170,000 healthcare professionals. “The federal government must do everything possible to protect the health of Americans and to ensure that healthcare personnel—who are key to that effort—are trained, protected and have the resources they need to do their jobs: caring for our communities.”

The funding and authorizations that Merkley secured for FDA in today’s package will help FDA fight the spread and severity of the coronavirus in numerous ways, including:

  1. Vaccine development. All vaccines in the U.S. must be approved by FDA. FDA works with manufacturers in evaluating potential vaccines for safety and effectiveness. Once a vaccine shows promise, it goes through clinical trials. A potential coronavirus vaccine will take months if not years for final approval. With this bill, the FDA has the resources and support it needs to expedite a coronavirus vaccine through its approval process, so that any successful vaccine can quickly get to the patients who need it.
  2. Medical countermeasures (MCM). MCM are used during an emergency to diagnose, prevent, and protect the public from an emerging disease threat. MCM can include vaccines, blood products and antibodies, drugs, and protective equipment such as masks and respirators. FDA’s role is to work with local, state, tribal and international governments to coordinate all of these activities. With this funding, the FDA can better coordinate at every level, from local to international governments, and ensure that communities are using best practices and evidence-based decision making to the greatest possible extent.
  3. Medical shortages. Monitoring of medical supply chains and product shortages, including outreach to manufacturers on drug supply shortages. With many drugs and medical devices reliant on supply chains in China, there is a risk that as the crisis continues there could be shortages of both drugs and equipment.  Already there is a shortage of some medical supplies like facemasks. This bill will support the FDA’s ability to monitor shortages of supplies and drugs, and to work with manufacturers to resolve these shortages as quickly as possible.
  4. Continuous manufacturing. Provide funding to bolster investments for continuous manufacturing so drugs can be manufactured in one location. With the worldwide spread of the coronavirus, we are already seeing disruptions to international markets and global supply chains. In this context, it’s more critical than ever that we have the capacity to manufacture critical drugs here in the U.S., without relying on international labs.
  5. Emergency Use Authorizations. Develop Emergency Use Authorizations for medical products, including diagnostics. In a medical emergency, it is sometimes necessary to approve medical devices and other products faster than normal. As the coronavirus spreads, the FDA will have the authority they need to cut through red tape and get devices to patients as quickly as possible when they are needed.
  6. Counterfeit or misbranded products to treat coronavirus. Support FDA enforcement against counterfeit or misbranded products that claim to treat the coronavirus. It’s easy for a global epidemic like the coronavirus to make individuals susceptible to disinformation and panic. In this environment, it’s critical to make sure that patients are receiving medically-accurate information and not being duped into spending money on counterfeit or misleadingly-marketed products to fight coronavirus.

Now that the funding package has been agreed upon by both House and Senate negotiators, it is expected to receive a vote on the floor of both the House and Senate in the coming days. Once it has been passed by both houses of Congress, it will be sent to the President’s desk to be signed into law.

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