Citing the possibility of another serious pandemic, the Biden administration on Friday laid out a plan to transform the nation’s ability to respond to major biological threats.
As staggering as the COVID-19 pandemic has been, the next one will likely be very different – and could be far worse, officials warn.
“We need better capabilities,” said Eric Lander, director of the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy, “because there’s a reasonable likelihood that another serious pandemic that could be worse than COVID-19 will occur soon and possibly even within the next decade.”
Lander compared the administration’s $65.3 billion proposal to the scope and seriousness of the Apollo Program, created to put a man on the moon. More than one-third of the cost would be spent on vaccine development and distribution capabilities.
Lander said the administration is optimistic that lawmakers will include an initial $15 billion in the $3.5 trillion spending package that Democrats hope to pass this fall to expand the social safety net, address climate change and more.
While continuing to fight the coronavirus pandemic, officials said the nation needs to be better prepared for biological threats, whether they’re naturally occurring diseases, laboratory accidents or deliberate acts of bio-warfare.
“We thought it was urgent to get started on this immediately,” said Beth Cameron, the National Security Council senior director for global health and biodefense.
The plan includes:
- Dramatically expanding the arsenal of vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics.
- Strengthening public health systems both in the U.S. and internationally.
- Improving the ability of the U.S. to produce personal protective equipment and other vital supplies.
- Improving early detection of pandemic threats.
- Creating a centralized “mission control” to be in charge of an effort that will draw on multiple federal agencies.
Lander said the nation must prepare not only for the increasing frequency of biological threats by increasing stockpiles but must also improve the science and technology to respond.
“Five years from now, we need to have much better capabilities,” he said.
In a future pandemic, for example, people shouldn’t have to drive to a CVS to get tested. Tests could be cheaper and more convenient, including the ability to frequently take them at home.
Those improvements could pay dividends beyond pandemic preparedness, Lander said. They could also improve public health generally.
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