Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack sent employees of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) Center for Veterinary Biologics (CVB) responsible for the verification and release of animal vaccines back to work today. More than a week into the government shutdown that shuttered the doors of all “non-essential” federal offices, Vilsack deemed these CVB employees "excepted" from furlough in order to maintain public health Tuesday.
The CVB is solely responsible for verifying animal vaccines and releasing them into the marketplace. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) warned lawmakers last week that that a prolonged shutdown could endanger herd health, food safety and public health. “Most food-producing companies only hold a one- or two-week inventory of major vaccines, meaning that they could soon run out of their supply if the CVB is unable to release new batches after a two-week period.”
U.S. House of Representatives Veterinary Medicine Caucus member Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., expressed his concern for the limited vaccine supply as well. Schrader told dvm360 on Oct. 4 that approval of animal vaccines was critical. “We could end up with a huge, huge, foodborne illness situation,” he says.
That same afternoon Schrader called Secretary Vilsack. “I’d like to think me and the AVMA pushed them to make a common-sense decision,” Schrader says. He says it was a welcome victory amongst the shutdown stalemate. Last week, in an effort to end the shutdown, Schrader joined with a group of House legislators to support a bipartisan budget proposal. The proposal would eliminate the medical device tax from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in exchange for six months of government funding. “It’s a good intermediate solution that both Republicans and Democrats support, so let’s get on with it,” Schrader says. “I think it’s exactly what the AVMA wants.”
Legislators are urging House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to let the House vote on the proposal. Schrader says he and congressional colleagues met earlier today and they believe there’s an “opportunity” for bipartisan passage if put to a vote. Boehner still sides with conservative members of the House, including veterinary caucus member Ted Yoho, R-Fla., who favor a budget resolution tied to the delay or defunding of the Affordable Healthcare Act.
Schrader still hopes for a quick end to the shutdown. He says a prolonged shutdown will continue to cause problems for the veterinary health community. “If you want a Coggins test or a TB [bovine tuberculosis] test, it will be increasingly difficult,” he says. The shutdown will also affect getting a loan processed to dealing with international quarantines.
Schrader is ready to secure a federal budget and more forward. “There are other things in the background starving for oxygen,” he says. Sponsored by the Veterinary Medicine Caucus, the Veterinary Mobility Act to exempt veterinarians from federal restrictions on transporting controlled substances, and the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP) Enhancement Act, which would make VMLRP loan repayment awards tax-exempt, are still priorities. “Those things are still on our radar screen in a big way, but there’s no oxygen in the room right now,” Schrader says.
Rep. Yoho’s press secretary has not responded to dvm360’s requests to speak with the congressman.