The White House warned Friday that the United States is “not adequately prepared” to handle future pandemics and other “high consequence biological threats,” and rolled out a strategy that would “fundamentally transform” the nation’s ability to prevent, detect and rapidly respond to pandemics and threats.
In a report released Friday by the White House Office of Science and Technology and the National Security Council, officials warned that the U.S., currently, is “not adequately prepared” to handle future pandemics, warning that “serious” biological threats are expected to occur “at an increasing frequency.”
President Biden’s top science advisor and White House Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP) Director Dr. Eric Lander warned Friday that another pandemic could “occur soon,” possibly within the next decade, and would “likely be substantially different than COVID-19.”
“We must be prepared to deal with any kind of viral threats,” he said.
The effort to transform U.S. response capabilities is expected to cost $65.3 billion— a dollar figure officials said “should not be viewed as a cost, but instead as providing a large return on investment.”
“Investing a modest amount annually to avert or mitigate the huge toll of future pandemics and other biological threats is an economic and moral imperative,” the report states. “It’s hard to imagine a higher economic—or human—return on national investment.”
The investments would include those in critical scientific goal areas like vaccines, therapeutics, diagnostics, and early warning, as well as other investments in strengthening disease surveillance, health systems, surge capacity, personal protective equipment, innovation, biosafety and biosecurity, regulatory capacity, and global pandemic preparedness.”
“Biological threats are increasing, whether naturally occurring, accidental, or deliberate, and the likelihood of a catastrophic biological event is similarly increasing,” the report states.
Officials warned that new infectious diseases have been emerging at a “quickening pace” due to “increased zoonotic transmission from animals, driven by population growth, climate change, habitat loss, and human behavior,” adding that the diseases are “spreading faster” with increased global travel.
Officials also warned that the number of laboratories around the world handling “dangerous pathogens” is growing, in part, as a response to an increased risk of pandemics, but also “boosting the likelihood that a contagious pathogen could be released accidentally.”
Officials also warned that as technologies of modern biology become more powerful, affordable, and accessible, there is the “disturbing possibility that a malign actor could develop and use a biological weapon, including one that is highly contagious,” and in violation of the Biological Weapons Convention and UN Security Council Resolution 1540.
A senior administration official told Fox News that the administration’s plan is not a response to an “immediate threat.” The plan states that technologies of modern biology are becoming more powerful, affordable and accessible, which they say “makes real the disturbing possibility that a malign actor could develop and use a biological weapon.”
“The administration is dedicated to guarding against that risk, through this preparedness plan, which emphasizes safety and security, as well as our work in parallel to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention; deter, prevent, detect, and respond to the development and use of biological weapons from states or terrorists; increase biosafety and biosecurity around the world with partners around the world, and reduce catastrophic biological risks,” the official told Fox News.
White House national security officials outlined the administration’s work across five pillars—including transforming the United States’ medical defense; ensuring situational awareness; strengthening public health, systems; building core capabilities, and managing the mission.
Transforming the U.S. medical defense system would include dramatically improving vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics. With regard to vaccines, officials said the U.S. should “enable design, testing and review of a safe and effective vaccine against any human virus within 100 days after the recognition of a potential pandemic threat.”
The effort would enable the production of enough vaccines for the entire U.S. population “within 130 days and for the global population within 200 days after its recognition as a potential emerging pandemic threat.”
As for therapeutics, officials said a range suitable for “any virus family” should be available “before a pandemic or readily created during a pandemic.”
According to the White House, the COVID-19 pandemic, as of mid-August 2021, COVID-19 has killed more than 4.3 million people globally, with excess mortality estimates suggesting a death toll exceeding 10 million. In the U.S., the number of deaths directly attributed to COVID-19 has surpassed 623,000 with many recovered patients living with “long-term effects.”