March 25, 2023

It could take years to implement the strategy, another senior government official said Monday, pointing out that the US needs time and resources to develop injections, drugs and tests for potentially dozens of pathogens.

The federal government also wants to develop the infrastructure to distribute those tools to Americans in a relatively short time, should an outbreak occur. For example, the US wants to develop and produce enough shots to cover the country’s population within 130 days of the emergence of a new viral threat, the official said.

But such efforts require significant funding — tens of billions of dollars — and will likely require the federal government to work with industry and philanthropic organizations. But Biden’s announcement comes at a time when the government is negotiating with lawmakers on Capitol Hill about additional funding for the domestic and global Covid and monkeypox fight. Many Republicans have reversed the requests, wondering why the government wants more money for a fight that the president has indicated is winding down.

In his 2023 budget, Biden asked Congress for $88 billion over five years to help fight pandemics and biological threats. The funding has yet to be approved, but the government is moving forward with its comprehensive plan with the idea that Congress will sign the money to help the country prepare for another virus like Covid-19.

“We are already implementing key actions in the strategy with a base budget that is billions of dollars annually,” said another senior government official. “But to truly completely transform our pandemic preparedness and biodefense capabilities, additional resources are needed. Preparedness financing has huge returns for US taxpayers.”

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Much of the government’s strategy is focused on detecting and preventing future biological and viral threats — efforts that require rebuilding the health care system and workforce. Since the pandemic started in 2020, thousands of health workers have quit 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,” said one of senior government officials.

Biden’s plan also includes a strategy for preventing pandemics and biological incidents that come from accidental and deliberate sources, such as a lab leak, another senior government official said. Part of the plan is to work with other countries on international standards for laboratory safety and biosecurity. The US is also completing a multi-agency review of efforts to strengthen responsible behavior for biological research.