The strategy could take years to implement, another senior administration official said on Monday, noting that the U.S. needs time and resources to develop shots, drugs and tests for potentially dozens of pathogens.
The federal government also seeks to develop the infrastructure to distribute those tools to Americans in a relatively short time should an outbreak occur. For example, the U.S. wants to develop and manufacture enough shots to cover the country’s population within 130 days following the emergence of a new viral threat, the official said.
But that kind of effort will need significant funding — tens of billions of dollars — and will likely require the federal government to partner with industry and philanthropic organizations. But Biden’s announcement comes at a time when the administration is in negotiations with lawmakers on Capitol Hill about additional funding for the domestic and global Covid and monkeypox fights. Many Republicans have pushed back on the requests, questioning why the administration wants more money for a fight the president has signaled is winding down.
In his 2023 budget, Biden asked Congress for $88 billion over five years to help combat pandemics and biological threats. The funding has yet to be approved, but the administration is moving forward with its expansive plan with the idea that Congress will sign off on the money to help the country prepare for another virus like Covid-19.
“We already are implementing key actions in the strategy under a baseline budget that amounts to billions of dollars annually,” said another senior administration official. “But to really fully transform our pandemic preparedness and bio defense capabilities, additional resources are needed. Preparedness financing actually has tremendous returns for the American taxpayer.”
A large portion of the administration’s strategy focuses on detecting and preventing future biological and viral threats — efforts that will require the rebuilding of the health care system and workforce. Since the pandemic began in 2020, thousands of health care workers have left their jobs.
The new U.S. plan prioritizes training and expanding a specialized health care workforce that can help contain the spread of potentially dangerous pathogens and “equitably protect the health of Americans and people around the world,” one of the senior administration officials said.
Biden’s plan also lays out a strategy for preventing pandemics and biological incidents that come from accidental and deliberate sources, such as a lab leak, another senior administration official said. Part of the plan is to work with other countries on international norms for lab safety and biosecurity. The U.S. is also completing an interagency review of efforts to strengthen responsible conduct for biological research.