BUFFALO, N.Y. — Over the past two years, academic medical centers like the Jacobs School in Buffalo have helped lead research on COVID-19 that have helped develop things like vaccines, treatment and testing and shaped public policy.
However, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand believes those institutions can be better prepared, funded and coordinated in the future.
"What a team learns from patients, tests and studies here in Buffalo can and should help hospitals across the state and across the country alike," Gillibrand said.
She has introduced the COVID-19 and Pandemic Response Centers of Excellence Act, which would create a Centers of Excellence administration program within the federal Department of Health and Human Services. The bill would also authorize $500 million in funding for the initiative including $10 million for at least 10 designated academic medical centers.
"COVID has shown us that when we have layers of defense like masks, vaccines and social distancing, our response is stronger,” Gillibrand said. “I want to replicate that approach on a larger scale and build a stronger, more robust health infrastructure that allows these centers to share their findings and to work with one another.”
Rep. Brian Higgins, D-NY-26, co-sponsors the bill in the house. The lawmakers said has support from both Democrats and Republicans.
"This COVID is not going away. We will probably never eradicate it," he said. "What we can do and what we must do is manage it as a public health crisis to keep all of our people safe."
University at Buffalo Vice President for Health Sciences Dr. Allison Brashear said there is still plenty of COVID research ahead, and the Jacobs School could use the funding to get that research to the community as quickly as possible as well as bring more doctors and researchers into the fold.
"The real heart of all of the work that we talk about are people, and bringing people in that would expand the research portfolio on pandemics such as the basic scientists, as well as the people who would care for the patients, clinical trials for those patients," Brashear said.
She said researchers are beginning to look more at long COVID syndrome and the effects of the virus on the brain.
"If this bill passes, it will be definitely a priority," she said. "We're already putting together a group to work on what that would look like and care for patients with long COVID and follow them over time."