Even as the United States reels from a year under the thumb of COVID-19, a new analysis from the Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense, released this week, warns that without action, the nation remains dangerously vulnerable to another pandemic or biological threat.
The report, Biodefense in Crisis: Immediate Action Needed to Address National Vulnerabilities, analyzed progress made since 2015 while blasting the nation for being caught unprepared against a pandemic that was, in the words of Commission co-chair, former Sen. Joe Lieberman, predictable. It warned that the U.S. must learn from its mistakes and take action to fix them.
“This global crisis resulted from a foreseeable combination of mutations, lack of immunity, poor preparedness, limited surveillance, and failure to learn from past pandemics,” Lieberman said. “When our Commission released its National Blueprint for Biodefense in 2015, we concluded that our recommendations could and should be implemented by the Executive and Legislative Branches within five years. However, out of our 87 recommended action items, the government has completed just 3, took some action to address 54, no action on 24, and emergency or crisis actions on 6 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are still more vulnerable to the next pandemic than we should be.”
The prevalence of COVID-19 still demands urgent attention. However, the Commission encouraged the government not to ignore future needs, either, and to that end, provided 11 recommendations for action. These include putting a great deal of responsibility on the shoulders of the vice president, creating a comprehensive national biodefense strategy, establishing a Deputy National Security Advisor for Biodefense, and eliminating the BioWatch program, which has proven outdated and of poor performance, doing little in the way of deterrence.
“Nation-states such as China, Iran, North Korea, and Russia continue to invest heavily in advancing biotechnology and could produce biological agents and weapons,” Tom Ridge, Commission Co-Chair, former Secretary of Homeland Security, said. “Terrorist organizations also remain interested in learning how to attack enemies with biological agents. National biodefense must begin and end with strong national leadership. The efforts of all federal departments and agencies with responsibilities for biodefense need to be coordinated, and they must be held accountable by the White House.”