White House Unveils $65 Billion Plan to Combat New Pandemics


September 3, 2021 11:28 am

The Biden administration unveiled a $65.3 billion plan to prepare for future pandemics threats, likening the ambitious proposal to the Apollo mission to the moon. 

The proposal announced Friday by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and National Security Council focuses on protecting the U.S. against potentially catastrophic biological threats, including those that are naturally occurring, accidental or deliberately set in motion by bad actors.

“There’s a reasonable likelihood that another serious pandemic that could be worse than Covid-19 will occur soon, and possibly even within the next decade,” Eric Lander, director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, said in a briefing with reporters. “For the first time in the nation’s history, we have the opportunity — due to these kinds of advances in science and technology — not just to refill stockpiles, but transform our capabilities.” 

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Given the toll the Covid-19 pandemic has taken on American lives and the U.S. economy, Lander added, “We really need to start preparing now.” The proposal also points to the quickening pace of the emergence of new infectious diseases due to population growth, climate change and habitat loss as a reason to launch the effort now. 

The White House’s move underscores the contrast with the administration of former President Donald Trump, whose National Security Council in 2018 eliminated a unit that oversaw planning for future pandemics.

The Biden administration said the funds should be “appropriated to a single, unified ‘Mission Control’ office” at the Department of Health and Human Services over the course of seven to 10 years, according to the strategy document, which was released Friday afternoon. The office is intended to emulate other efforts that have drawn expertise from multiple government agencies, including President John F. Kennedy’s Apollo program, which landed the first humans on the moon in 1969. 

“Like any ambitious endeavor, whether it’s going to the moon with the Apollo mission or cracking the human DNA with the Human Genome Project, an effort like this will take serious sustained commitment and accountability,” Lander said.

Recommended Allocations

Any funding would need to be appropriated by Congress. The plan, called “American Pandemic Preparedness: Transforming Our Capabilities,” recommends:

  • $24.2 billion for vaccine development;
  • $11.8 billion for drug development;
  • $6.5 billion for strengthening the U.S. public health infrastructure;
  • $5 billion to improve testing;
  • $3.1 billion for surveillance systems for detection, plus another $2.3 billion for real-time monitoring;
  • and $3.1 billion for personal protective equipment, among other allocations

“It’s vital that we start with an initial outlay of $15-to-$20 billion to jump-start these efforts,” Lander said. “We’re proposing the current budget reconciliation provide at least $15 billion toward this goal.”

The Biden administration calls the investment a drop in the bucket. The U.S. spends $170 billion per year on preventing terrorism, according the proposal, which suggests that “it’s hard to imagine a higher economic — or human — return on national investment” than such a preparedness plan. 

Bloomberg first reported on Friday morning that the OSTP would lead efforts to create a new pandemic preparedness office. 

As a part of that new venture, the White House tapped Matthew Hepburn, the director of Covid vaccine development for the Countermeasures Acceleration Group, formerly known as Operation Warp Speed, according to people familiar with the matter. 

Starting Oct. 1, Hepburn will begin serving as a direct-report to Lander, building out the U.S. government’s vaccine, therapeutic and diagnostic capabilities, among other objectives outlined in the proposal.

The people, who asked not to be named as all the details of the plan aren’t yet public, said the OSTP would provide oversight of the dispersed biodefense funding. Hepburn’s full-time position will focus on managing the “American Pandemic Preparedness” agenda across HHS’s various agencies.

Five-Pronged Proposal

The Covid-19 pandemic has made it apparent that the nation’s medical supply chains are in need of an overhaul and additional funding. Health workers were unable to get enough personal protective equipment for much of the pandemic and hospitals are still struggling to get enough oxygen.

The proposal reflects on those shortcomings and outlines five areas of “urgent need” of investment, including expanding the arsenal of pharmaceutical and diagnostic products, bolstering monitoring of infectious disease threats, improving emergency-response, replenishing protective equipment and managing the multipronged biodefense effort. 

Through the plan, the Biden administration would aim to develop a successful vaccine for “any human virus” within 100 days in which a pandemic threat is identified, and produce enough supply for all the U.S. within 130 days. 

The proposed office would also be tasked with securing simple, inexpensive diagnostic tests that can be deployed at large scale within weeks of a viral threat being detected. It will also develop those detection and monitoring capabilities, according to the plan. 

Finally, the office will refill stockpiles that have been depleted by the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as create secure supply chains by having more U.S.-based manufacturing capacity. To address the PPE shortages, the office would work to develop new types of masks, gowns and other supplies.

The office’s purpose would be mainly focused on domestic preparedness improvements but would involve working globally to prevent laboratory accidents, a topic that has received renewed focus because of the uncertainty over how Covid-19 started.