Fast-Track New Therapeutics, Counter China’s Influence

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President Donald Trump should require more deregulation in the next 30 days to fast-track approval of disinfectants, therapeutics, and vaccines for combating COVID-19, The Heritage Foundation’s National Coronavirus Recovery Commission recommended Tuesday. 

The 17-member panel comprising experts with experience in state and federal government, the business community, the health care sector, and the faith community also called for both government and the private sector to challenge the influence of China, where the virus originated, while at the same time relaxing tariffs to promote free trade for a stronger economic recovery.

Those were among more than 100 recommendations released Tuesday by the commission, which also had suggestions for state and local governments and the private sector.

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It’s the second batch of recommendations covering phases three and four of the commission’s five-phase plan for reopening a U.S. economy forced to temporarily shut down as a result of the pandemic.

>>> When can America reopen? The National Coronavirus Recovery Commission, a project of The Heritage Foundation, is gathering America’s top thinkers together to figure that out. Learn more here.

Phase three is “Continue to build the science” and phase four is “Establish U.S. leadership in leading the free world in economic recovery.”

Last month, the commission released 47 recommendations covering phases one and two, which focused on returning to more normal business activity and slowing the spread of the coronavirus. Recommendations for phase five will be out in the coming weeks. 

To date, the commission has made a total of 179 recommendations. They are aimed at lawmakers and the private sector, after hundreds of Americans submitted ideas. 

“Saving Americans’ lives and livelihoods go hand in hand. Treating these objectives as an either-or—when they are deeply intertwined—all but ensures failure to protect both,” said Kay C. James, president of The Heritage Foundation and the chairwoman of the commission. 

“It’s time to move expeditiously toward reopening America while taking proper precautions,” James said, adding:

Policymakers must also consider reforms that expand our knowledge of the virus, speed up solutions, enable strategic engagement with the rest of the world in trade and travel, and leverage economic freedom for a stronger recovery.

The commission had several suggestions for dealing with China, where the virus originated. 

It recommended that the State Department work to counter Chinese pressures influencing international organizations, such as the World Health Organization. 

It also called for the Commerce Department to evaluate concerns over drug sourcing from China and quality control for drugs, including medicines that have nothing to do with COVID-19.

“Congress and the [Food and Drug Administration] are already working to address sourcing and quality concerns,” the report says. “They need to keep doing so with all due diligence, even after the current crisis has passed.”

The commission further called for “America’s thought leaders” to examine and communicate how freedom has shaped America’s response to the coronavirus and its economic effects, as opposed to how authoritarian regimes such as China’s have responded.

The commission specifically said that Trump should require deregulatory plans from the FDA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Environmental Protection Agency, among other relevant regulatory bodies, within the next month in order to fast-track approval for new disinfectants, therapeutics, and vaccines to treat the coronavirus.

The new report also calls on Congress to provide legal immunity to health care companies, such as drugmakers, that take reasonable steps to ensure safety of the pandemic-related products they develop. That should particularly be the case for products that are FDA-approved and EPA-approved products.

“The Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act makes it possible for the Secretary of Health and Human Services to provide immunity from liability in public health crises,” the report noted, adding:

[Health and Human Services] Secretary Alex Azar made a declaration in March triggering the protections of this law, although there is still confusion as to how it applies, and to whom and what it applies, during the pandemic. 

HHS should provide greater clarity and provide as much liability protection as authorized by law, including identifying some bright-line rules. 

To the extent that existing law does not provide adequate liability protection, Congress should expand the protection and set a very high threshold for imposing liability.

The commission’s newest report also suggested that the nation’s governors should promptly allow all medical offices in their states to reopen and remove barriers to a more flexible health care workforce.

The panel also recommended that the president task federal health agencies with developing plans for innovative ways to rapidly deploy coronavirus therapeutics and vaccines across the country in a manner that is both efficient and effective.

It is also calling on the Trump administration to drop a number of tariffs imposed in the past two years in order to increase trade freedom with the intent of boosting economic recovery.  

With regard to the private sector, the commission called for private technology companies to continue voluntary efforts to work together to develop better digital COVID-19 contact-tracing tools.

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