Mary Woolley's Weekly Letter: Science: Front and Center

Mary Woolley

Dear Research Advocate,

 

Because Research!America’s membership spans the ecosystem of stakeholders in research, we are fortunate to have access to a broad and comprehensive range of information you might find helpful. Visit and share our COVID-19 webpage. www.ResearchAmerica.org/COVID19

 

A CDC report just out indicates that younger Americans have been hospitalized with COVID-19 at a higher rate than anticipated. As we look ahead to the use of vaccines against this and other threats, we have new (in the field just last evening) survey data showing that almost two-thirds of Americans ages 18-29 may not fully understand the role of vaccines. Better news is that this demographic is increasingly likely to say it is very important for 

policymakers to listen to scientists for advice.

 

After passing a second supplemental spending bill yesterday, the Senate and the Administration are at work on a third, focused primarily on mitigating the economic impact of the crisis. (For a recap of the first two supplementals, see the National Health Council’s summary). Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) said earlier today that after Congress completes the third bill, lawmakers will begin negotiating legislation in response to the Administration’s request for almost $50 billion in additional funding for federal agencies to combat COVID-19. This request includes $441 million for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and $3.4 billion for CDC. Here is a chart that tracks actual and proposed supplemental funding for NIH, CDC, FDA, and NSF. 

 

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) would not receive an appreciable increase in the Administration’s funding request; however, Research!America is working with AcademyHealth and other advocates to make the case for elevating AHRQ’s role in addressing this crisis. AHRQ leverages research to address health system challenges, and our health system has never been so challenged, nor patients’ safety at higher risk. 

 

In welcome news, the Administration is also seeking more funding for CDC and NIAID for FY21, amending its budget request from February to propose $8.3 billion for CDC (an amount more than $1 billion above the original request) and $5.8 billion for NIAID (almost $400 million more). It is important to note that while encouraging, this is still a proposal; actual FY21 funding levels will be determined over the course of the FY21 appropriations process.

 

Even in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, Congress is working to complete the FY21 budget by the September 30, 2020 deadline and that means stakeholders have work to do, as well.  Research!America submitted written testimony to the House Appropriations Commerce, Justice, and Science Subcommittee making the case for robust growth in NSF, and we will also be submitting testimony supporting increased funding for NIH, CDC, FDA, and AHRQ. I hope you will take a moment now to contact your senators, asking them to sign on to a letter Senators Burr (R-NC) and Casey (D-PA) are circulating in support of robust funding for NIH.

 

Earlier this week, Research!America hosted a conference call for our members and partners with Dr. Larry Tabak, NIH’s Principal Deputy Director, and Dr. Michael Lauer, Deputy Director for Extramural Research, both of whom emphasized the NIH would exert as much flexibility as possible during these challenging times. A recording of the detail-rich call can be accessed here and COVID-19-related guidance is posted on both the Office of Extramural Research Open Mike Blog and on the Grants.NIH.gov website.

 

This afternoon, we held an alliance member call with Dana Acton, Legislative Director for House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY-17) and FDA’s Dr. Jacqueline Corrigan-Curay. Both evidenced openness to hearing from advocates. We’ll post a recap of the call on our website soon. 

 

More alliance member calls are in the queue: Dr. David Skorton, president of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), will join us on Tuesday, March 24 at 1 p.m. ET to discuss the strategies academic health centers are employing to address COVID-19.  HHS Assistant Secretary of Health Admiral Brett Giroir plans to join a call during the first week of April. If your organization is an alliance member, email Sarah Ackerman at sackerman@researchamerica.org to register for next week’s call, and keep an eye out for the invitation to hear from ADM Giroir.  

 

Stay well and stay connected, virtually.

 

Sincerely,

 

Mary Woolley

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Without continued support for health research, many of the most promising young scientists, their ideas and a myriad of potentially life-changing scientific breakthroughs will vanish into oblivion.
Paul Marinec, PhD; University of California San Francisco