White House calls for $65B pandemic preparedness overhaul

Politico Pro

September 3, 2021 11:35 am

White House science advisers on Friday called for the creation of a $65.3 billion overhaul of the nation’s pandemic preparedness infrastructure to protect against the “reasonable likelihood” of another serious pandemic in the years ahead.

“The next pandemic will very likely be substantially different than Covid-19, so we must be prepared to deal with any type of viral threat,” Eric Lander, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, told reporters.

The details: The new plan calls for having the capability to do routine genomic sequencing of samples from patients with an unexplainable fever or respiratory disease to more quickly detect emerging threats, and creating data systems that share real-time information. Other cornerstones of the effort include strengthening global R&D standards for “potentially dangerous biological agents” and deterring the development of bioweapons.

In the event of an emerging pandemic, officials want the U.S. to be able to develop and deploy daily at-home diagnostic tests within weeks and design, test and review candidate vaccines within 100 days. Funding would be directed toward researching therapeutics that can be used to target any family of viruses and bolster the nation’s ability to rapidly manufacture monoclonal antibodies at scale.

Other priorities include refilling stockpiles, building “onshore and near-shore” manufacturing facilities for essential medical supplies and establishing the ability to surge production of personal protective gear.

The effort would resemble the Apollo space program, with a centralized “Mission Control” housed at the Department of Health and Human Services tasked with overseeing funds, developing program goals and coordinating efforts across government, academia, philanthropy and the private sector. The command hub would draw on experts from the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority and other agencies.

Funding considerations: The Biden administration is in discussions with congressional leaders to include $15 billion dollars for the overhaul in the forthcoming reconciliation bill, according to Lander. Additional appropriations would be sought in the future to fund the total cost of the decade-long plan.

The new proposal is a “central piece” of the Biden administration’s vision for building better biological preparedness and builds on efforts like the establishment of a Center for Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics at CDC, according to Beth Cameron, the White House National Security Council senior director for global health security and biodefense.