WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently released the National Public Health Strategy to Prevent and Control Vector-Borne Diseases in People. This national strategy was required as part of the Kay Hagan Tick Act that was authored by U.S. Senators Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Tina Smith, D-Minnesota, and signed into law in December 2019. Senator Collins spoke with HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral Rachel Levine earlier this month to preview the release of this strategy.
The strategy aims to address the rising public health threat of vector borne diseases (VBDs), including tickborne diseases, according to a release by Collins’ office. As required by the Kay Hagan Tick Act, the strategy defines strategic goals to address vector-borne diseases, sets benchmarks to measure progress toward achieving goals, and seeks to better coordinate programs and activities across the federal government, including data collection, research, and the development of diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines.
“This national public health strategy is a critical step in helping to slow the spread of tick and other vector-borne illnesses that have affected far too many families and communities throughout Maine and the United States,” said Collins. “As author of the Kay Hagan Tick Act that required the development of this strategy, this report clearly outlines the public health threat posed by vector-borne diseases. We must not lose momentum in our efforts to improve surveillance, diagnosis and detection, prevention, and control measures in order to combat the devastating diseases that can be caused by tick bites.”
The VBD National Strategy outlines five goals to protect people from illness, suffering, and death due to VBDs. These include seeking to:
• Better understand when, where, and how people are exposed to and get sick or die from VBDs.
• Develop, evaluate, and improve tools, methods, and guidance to diagnose VBDs and their pathogens.
• Develop, evaluate, and improve tools, methods, and guidance to prevent and control VBDs.
• Develop and assess drugs and treatment strategies for VBDs.
• Disseminate and implement public health tools, programs, and collaborations to prevent, detect, diagnose, and respond to VBD threats.
The VBD National Strategy also encourages more collaboration and innovation to reach targeted public health outcomes for the United States, including setting a target of reducing the number of Lyme disease cases (laboratory confirmed) 25% by 2035.
Last year, Maine CDC reported a record 2,904 confirmed Lyme disease cases and the Maine Tick Lab found that deer ticks are expanding their range farther north and Down East.
As the vice xhairman of the Appropriations Committee and a member of the Health Committee, Collins secured an increase of $13.5 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Lyme disease and vector-borne diseases programs – which support the programs authorized under the Kay Hagan Tick Act – in the Fiscal Year 2023 appropriations bill. The legislation also includes nearly $240 million in additional funding to support the Institute at the National Institutes of Health that carries out Lyme and other tick-borne diseases research.