The U.S. House of Representatives last night approved $7.65 billion in new money to respond to the swine flu pandemic. The money will go toward the purchase of vaccine, antiviral drugs, and other medical needs. Congress also stipulated that the funds be available for surveillance and to help assist international efforts. At least $350 million must be spent on “upgrading State and local capacity.”
Jeffrey Levi, a health policy specialist who heads the Washington, D.C.-based Trust for America’s Health, applauds Congress’s action. “This demonstrates a serious commitment on the part of the Administration and the Congress to ramp up our capacity to respond to the H1N1 pandemic,” Levi said.
Although the Office of Management and Budget had suggested that Congress set aside nearly $12 billion in contingency funds by dipping into money allocated to Project BioShield and the stimulus plan, Levi said the legislators made the right decision not to rely on what he called a “rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul” strategy. “Preparing for a pandemic shouldn't come at the expense of defending against other threats,” he said.
The Obama Administration so far has committed $1 billion to purchase vaccine against the novel H1N1 virus for 20 million Americans and the new cash may enable it to purchase more. “The Administration now has the flexibility to tap resources as needed as they make the science-based decisions to proceed or not with vaccine production,” Levi said.
The money is part of a $106 billion package of supplemental funds that mainly support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Senate is expected to vote on the bill later this week, and it’s expected to pass easily and then receive President Barack Obama’s signature.