U.S. President Joe Biden will deliver remarks on the August Jobs Report at the White House in Washington on September 3, 2021.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters
The Biden administration tabled a $ 65 billion plan on Friday that U.S. officials say will help the nation tackle the next biological threats after the Covid-19 pandemic subsides.
The next pandemic will likely be “significantly” different from Covid, and so the US government must prepare now to deal with any future viral threat, said Eric Lander, scientific advisor to President Joe Biden and director of the Office of Science and Technology, on a background conversation with reporters Friday.
The plan – published in a 27-page document entitled “American Pandemic Preparedness: Transforming Our Capabilities” – calls for billions of dollars to be invested over the next decade to improve vaccines, therapeutics and public health infrastructure improve the country’s real-time surveillance capabilities and upgrade personal protective equipment that could be used against a wide variety of pathogens.
The Biden government’s plan is divided into five “pillars,” officials said, each targeting different parts of the public health system. She proposes $ 15 billion to $ 20 billion to accelerate government efforts. The funds would go to a new “mission control” office in the Department of Health and Human Services, which is closely overseen by Congress, officials said.
Lander said the ongoing Covid pandemic exposed “fundamental issues” with America’s public health system, including insufficient funding and lack of coordination between federal, state and local governments.
The nation is still battling the world’s worst Covid outbreak, with more than 39 million cases and at least 643,776 deaths on Friday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Many recovered patients are still living with the long-term effects of the disease, he said.
“We need better skills … because there is a reasonable likelihood that another major pandemic that could be worse than Covid-19 will occur soon, possibly even within the next decade,” he told reporters on the call.
Officials said the government’s call to invest $ 65 billion was “modest” considering the current pandemic has cost the US an estimated $ 16 trillion in lost economic output.
It’s also less than what the country spends on other programs like missile defense and counterterrorism, which cost U.S. taxpayers $ 20 billion and $ 170 billion a year, respectively, they said.
“If major pandemics like COVID-19, which cost the US about $ 16 trillion, happened every 20 years, the annualized economic impact on the US would be $ 800 billion a year. Even with slightly milder pandemics, the annualized cost would likely exceed $ 500 billion, “officials wrote in the document.
According to the document, the Biden government’s largest planned investment is in vaccine development, which has helped the nation stave off serious illness, hospitalizations and deaths.
The US would spend a total of $ 24.2 billion to develop and test new vaccines against a range of viruses and to improve vaccine sales and manufacture.
The plan also envisages spending $ 11.8 billion on therapeutics, which would allow U.S. scientists and drug makers to develop new antiviral and other drugs and secure large-scale manufacturing capabilities for monoclonal antibody treatments.
Approximately $ 3.1 billion has been allocated to support the development of next generation PPE. At the height of the pandemic last year, frontline health workers faced problems as they encountered a shortage of masks, gowns, face shields and gloves.
The plan comes as the US heads into Labor Day weekend with just over four times as many Covid-19 cases and more than twice as many hospital admissions as last year.
Biden’s government said it was preparing to begin widespread distribution of Covid booster vaccinations in the week of September 20 pending Food and Drug Administration approval after data showed vaccine protection against Covid infection subsides.
The plan, outlined by senior health officials last month, calls for a third dose eight months after the second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.
Early on Friday, Biden said he would discuss “next steps” to combat the Delta variant next week.