ADA urges Congress to include dentists in legislation leveraging best COVID-19 practices

Washington - The American Dental Association is urging lawmakers to include dentists in any decision-making bodies on pandemic preparedness when developing legislation that aims to leverage best practices from the COVID-19 pandemic to enhance the nation's response to future public health emergencies.

In a Feb.4 letter to the leadership of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, ADA President Cesar R. Sabates, D.D.S., and Executive Director Raymond A. Cohlmia, D.D.S., said the ADA was pleased to comment on the discussion draft of the Prepare for and Respond to Existing Viruses, Emerging New Threats, and Pandemics Act, or PREVENT Pandemics Act.

"The most glaring oversight in the federal response to COVID-19 - and one we hope you will correct in this bill - is the extent to which dentistry had to fight to be recognized as a viable resource in expanding the nation's medical surge capacity," Drs. Sabates and Cohlmia wrote. "We therefore ask that dentists be identified by name - alongside physicians - as essential members of any planning and decision-making bodies."

The ADA shared examples of how dentists weren't considered early in the pandemic such as when federal officials granted temporary nationwide authority for pharmacists to order and administer FDA-approved COVID-19 tests. The ADA advocated for dentists to be granted the same authority and at least 24 states and the District of Columbia did so, but the Department of Health and Human Services never followed suit.

"We do not believe [HHS] intended to exclude any qualified providers from being able to administer these tests," Drs. Sabates and Cohlmia wrote. "It is simply our experience that being at the table early on - and being there in a codified way - can prevent these missed opportunities from happening."

The letter also said the ADA is grateful that the PREP Act was eventually amended to authorize dentists to administer the COVID-19 vaccines nationwide. Additionally, the ADA was pleased with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendation that dental personnel be placed in Tier 1 of the critical workers who were given immediate access to the initially limited supply of the COVID-19 vaccine.

"Unfortunately, we are not convinced either action would have been obvious without our advocacy," Drs. Sabates and Cohlmia wrote.

"The Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act and the Federal Emergency Management Agency's National Response Framework both recognize dentistry as a vital medical countermeasure. Having dentistry at the planning table early on - and being there in a codified way - will help ensure this vital national resource will not be overlooked. We hope that will be reflected in the final bill," the letter concluded.

The ADA also offered suggestions on other sections of the draft bill, including those on access to mental health services, emergency department referral, the social determinants of health and more.

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