The US administration unveiled a $65.3 billion plan on Friday to arm the nation against future, potentially catastrophic biological threats, whether naturally occurring or deliberately set in motion by adversaries.
US President Joe Biden’s top scientific adviser has acknowledged that the ongoing coronavirus health crisis has laid bare “fundamental issues” with America’s public health system that “go far beyond pandemic preparedness.”
“The issues include the need to increase overall public health funding, strengthen the public health workforce, eliminate barriers to access, improve data systems, address disparities, improve communications, and improve coordination across federal, state, local, and Tribal authorities,” according to Eric Lander, Director of the Office of Science and Technology, speaking in a background call with reporters on Friday.
“Much better capabilities” will be required from the US in the face of future biological threats, he cautioned.
The geneticist underscored that as any next pandemic will likely be “substantially different” than COVID-19, the US government would be well advised to start preparing now for such an eventuality.
“We need better capabilities … because there’s a reasonable likelihood that another serious pandemic, that could be worse than Covid-19, will occur soon, possibly even within the next decade,” said the geneticist.
According to Lander, the current health crisis struck at a time when advances in both science and technology “made it possible to respond much more rapidly than ever before.”
“Had COVID-19 emerged five years ago, we would have had far fewer tools to do this. But, five years from now, we need to have much better capabilities,” he added.
Lander’s warnings came as he unveiled the White House officials’ pandemic preparedness funding plan. The Biden administration’s plan, contained in a 27-page document titled “American Pandemic Preparedness: Transforming Our Capabilities,” is organised into five “pillars,” addressing different parts of the public health system.
To get the plan off the ground, an initial $15 billion to $20 billion will be required, with the overall cost running into $65 billion over the next seven to 10 years.
In line with the ambitious plan, billions of dollars would be invested in improving vaccines, the public health infrastructure, upgrading personal protective equipment to safeguard against a swathe of pathogens.
Eric Lander urged Congress to allocate the sum in the budget reconciliation bill, scheduled to be debated this autumn.
“If major pandemics similar to COVID-19, costing the US roughly $16 trillion, occur at a frequency of every 20 years, the annualised economic impact on the US would be $800 billion per year. Even for somewhat milder pandemics, the annualised cost would likely exceed $500 billion,” said the document.
This comes as coronavirus hospitalisations remain perilously high in the US. Currently, 102,804 people have been hospitalised for Covid-19 across the country, according to the US Department of Health & Human Services data.
Approximately 62 percent of the total US population has received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, according to CDC data, and about 52.7 percent have been fully vaccinated.