White House unveils $65B pandemic preparedness plan
The Biden administration on Friday unveiled its $65.3 billion plan to improve the U.S.’s pandemic preparedness strategy in the midst of COVID-19 and as the country readies for any future biological threats.
The White House plans to funnel the $65.3 billion over seven to 10 years to invest in the country’s ability to respond “rapidly and effectively” to future epidemics and pandemics, as the current COVID-19 crisis has disrupted society and killed millions worldwide.
“The cost of the pandemic prevention pales in comparison to the enormous cost – in lives and in economic cost – of a pandemic,” the administration said in a press release.
Eric Lander, the director of the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP), told reporters that “it’s vital” to start with a commitment of $15 billion to $20 billion “to jump-start the efforts.”
The White House is also proposing the current budget reconciliation bill dedicate $15 billion to the effort, he said. Officials are in discussions with Capitol Hill about obtaining the $15 billion in the reconciliation and are “very optimistic,” Lander said.
“Five years from now we need to be in a stronger position to stop infectious diseases before they become global pandemics like COVID-19,” he said.
“There’s a reasonable likelihood of another serious pandemic that could be worse than COVID-19 will occur soon, possibly within the next decade,” he added. “And the next pandemic will very likely be substantially different than COVID-19. So we must be prepared to deal with any type of viral threats.”
Officials said the pandemic preparedness effort will require the “seriousness in purpose,” “commitment” and “accountability” of former President Kennedy’s Apollo program that aimed to get Americans on the moon.
To ensure effective management of the endeavor, the administration has proposed setting up a mission control to operate as a central program management unit, but there are ongoing discussions over which agency would house the unit.
“We believe that transforming our capabilities will require a systematic effort and a shared vision for biological preparedness that … is really akin to an Apollo mission,” said Beth Cameron, the director for global health security and biodefense in the National Security Council.
“And that’s why I envision that this will be a core element of our strategy going forward on biodefense and pandemic readiness informed by lessons from the COVID 19 pandemic,” she added.
The White House’s strategy identifies five areas with “a set of urgent needs and opportunities,” including revamping the U.S.’s medical defenses with vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics; ensuring situational awareness about threats; and strengthening public health systems for emergencies.
The other two components of the plan involve building the U.S.’s capabilities, including its personal protective equipment stockpiles, and “managing the mission” with mission control.
The proposal comes after President Biden in his first days in office issued an executive order requesting a review of the country’s biopreparedness policies.
More recently, advocates have been pushing to include $30 billion in preparedness funding in the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill. But worries have mounted that Democrats will only allocate a fraction of that amount to cut costs to fit in a number of priorities.