The White House on Friday released a new multibillion-dollar plan for improving preparedness for pandemics or other biological threats, comparing it to the ambitious Apollo moon shot program of the 1960s and 1970s.
“We need better capabilities, also, because there is a reasonable likelihood that another serious pandemic that could be worse than Covid-19 will occur soon, possibly even within the next decade,” Eric Lander, director of the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy, told reporters in a telephone briefing.
The White House plans to begin funding the new plan with $15 billion from the budget reconciliation package that’s currently moving through Congress, with the long-term goal of appropriating $65.3 billion over seven to 10 years.
Officials on the call repeatedly compared the plan to the Apollo space missions in its ambition and scope. The plan, they said, also derives lessons from the Obama-era pandemic playbook as well as the last year and half fighting Covid-19.
The plan comprises five elements. Joining Lander on the call was Beth Cameron, special assistant to the President and National Security Council senior director for global health security and biodefense.
The first goal of the new plan is “transforming our medical defenses” through increasing the country’s ability to develop vaccines and therapeutics against future biological threats. Second, “ensuring situational awareness” by developing a more robust early warning system and real-time monitoring.
The third element of the administration’s plan is “strengthening public health systems” by modernizing public health infrastructure, prioritizing at-risk communities and establishing international infrastructure and financing for pandemic readiness. The fourth element is “building core capabilities,” which means appropriately stockpiling and developing personal protective equipment and expanding the country’s supply chains. This will include increasing biosafety and improving the regulatory capacity in the support of vaccine and therapeutic development.
The plan’s final element is centered on around establishing a national and unified mission control “to manage, integrate and ensure accountability for all aspects of the US pandemic preparedness program.”
“I think they have identified most of the key issues,” Dr. Eric Toner, senior scholar with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told CNN. “If they invest serious money and, more importantly, sustained commitment, perhaps we can make real progress.”
Toner noted that many medical and national security experts had been focused on pandemic preparedness for 20 years or longer, but said much of the attention and most of the funding fizzled out in 2009, when the pandemic of H1N1 swine flu turned out to be less serious than feared.
“The Obama administration turned its attention to other huge national problems,” he said.
“And the Trump administration went further and devalued preparedness efforts,” he added. “The entire public health infrastructure has been allowed to decay.”