June 30, 2020

Harris Introduces Bill to Better Prepare for and Respond to Pandemics

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) on Tuesday introduced the Improving Pandemic Preparedness and Response Through Diplomacy Act, legislation that creates a special presidential envoy for pandemic preparedness and response, charged with developing and implementing a diplomatic strategy to prepare for, detect, respond to, and recover from pandemics and other global outbreaks of infectious disease. The legislation was also introduced as an amendment to the Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Instead of working with the international community, the Trump administration has taken a series of steps that make responding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and prepare for future outbreaks more difficult, including announcing that the United States would withdraw its support of the World Health Organization (WHO). Meanwhile, COVID-19 continues to devastate the United States and countries around the world, disproportionately affecting vulnerable populations. Just this week, the pandemic surpassed a tragic milestone, with the number of confirmed cases surpassing ten million and the number of deaths more than 500,000 globally.

Because infectious diseases like COVID-19 readily cross borders, serious diplomacy is essential to protecting the American people now and in the future. To that end, The Improving Pandemic Preparedness and Response Through Diplomacy Act would require the appointment of a high-level official responsible for developing a diplomatic strategy to aid in the development of vaccines and disease surveillance systems, promotion of transparency in disease reporting, and mitigating disruptions in supply chains of medical supplies, among other important efforts.

“COVID-19 and other infectious diseases affect the entire international community,” said Harris. “No country can beat this pandemic by itself. We must use every tool we have, including diplomacy, to protect the life and livelihoods of all our people.”

“Special Presidential Envoys/Ambassadors at Large have proven to be very successful coordinators on critical issues with significant intra-Departmental and interagency requirements. Given the importance of a whole of government preparedness to address pandemics in the international arena, Senator Harris’ amendment would provide an important tool for the future,” said Patrick Kennedy, former Under Secretary of State for Management.

“The coronavirus pandemic is a truly global crisis that requires a truly global—and multifaceted—response. Senator Harris’s bill would give the U.S. government the tools to better coordinate its efforts internally and work more effectively with international partners to respond to this and future pandemics, thereby helping to keep Americans safe,” said Phil Gordon, former Assistant Secretary of State and Special Assistant to President Obama.

“Senator Harris’ bill addresses a critical element of how our nation must prepare for the next pandemic, even as we struggle to respond to this one. A virus does not know borders and working with countries and organizations around the world is not optional. As any Ambassador can attest, it requires the whole of our government to successfully conduct the diplomacy, commerce, assistance and science needed to meet such a global challenge. A Special Presidential Envoy is the right way to supercharge that effort and ensure that the full range of American ingenuity is brought to bear," said Dana Shell Smith, former United States Ambassador.

"This is a global pandemic, and America's preparedness and response capacity for this and future pandemics is dependent on our global partnerships and our capacity to engage the world. From supply chain to a search for a vaccine, we must have a single person whose sole focus is to make sure that we better protect Americans from a virus that knows no borders,” said Juliette Kayyem, former Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security.

Bill text can be found HERE.

A one-pager on the bill can be found HERE.

The amendment to the NDAA can be found HERE.