Washington Update

Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

By: Ellen Kuo
Wednesday, October 26, 2022
Administration Announces Strategy for Future Pandemics and Biothreats

Gaps in national preparedness have spurred the Biden administration to take measures to prevent and/or mitigate the impact of future pandemics and biothreats. Current modeling efforts predict the risk of another pandemic within 25 years, if not sooner.

In response, the White House rolled out National Security Memorandum-15, which affirms the policy coordination structure for biodefense across federal agencies with oversight at the White House under the National Security Advisor. First, it directs departments and agencies to prioritize biodefense and implement the National Biodefense Strategy in their annual budgets. Second, it directs the intelligence community to continuously track the evolving threat landscape to provide critical information needed to address naturally occurring, accidental, and deliberate biothreats. Third, it ensures the U.S. government continuously adapts to the evolving threat landscape by exercising emergency responses annually, reviewing ongoing responses, and adjusting federal priorities regularly to account for lessons learned.

Along with the memo, a new National Biodefense Strategy and Implementation Plan for Countering Biological Threats, Enhancing Pandemic Preparedness, and Achieving Global Health Security (i.e., the Strategy), outlining the actions needed to be free of pandemics and catastrophic biological incidents, was launched. The Strategy explains a whole-of-government effort across 20 federal agencies to manage its activities to assess, prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from biological threats, coordinating its biodefense efforts with those of state, local, tribal, and territorial entities, international partners, industry, academia, nongovernmental entities, and the private sector more effectively.

The five goals of the Strategy are enabling risk awareness, ensuring biodefense enterprise capabilities, ensuring biodefense enterprise preparedness, rapidly responding to bio incidents, and recovering to restore the community, economy, and environment. Meeting such goals will involve the recruitment and retention of a robust health workforce in every state. Another goal will involve galvanizing support for international mechanisms to strengthen lab safety and biosecurity norms and practices globally.

Transforming and modernizing how the country pursues medical and scientific breakthroughs is also vital. There are 26 families of viruses that are known to infect humans for which the country is not prepared. The Strategy plans a series of moonshot efforts building off of last year’s release of the American Pandemic Preparedness Plan to accelerate the speed of response for these unknown threats with specific timelines for action that are not yet possible in the current environment but could be within the next 5 to 10 years. Examples of such moonshot efforts would be to make diagnostics available within 12 hours of an outbreak and to develop novel vaccines within 100 days. Achieving the most transformative objectives will require the support of Congress, including the President’s $88 billion request over five years for pandemic preparedness.