Experts Say the United States Needs to Prepare for Another Pandemic Like COVID

COVID-19 deaths and cases are starting to decline and some experts are projecting that the worst of the delta surge is over, thanks to a combination of vaccine uptake and natural immunity.

The country urgently needs to upgrade its pandemic response capabilities to prevent future infectious calamities, argues former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb.

In his new book, Uncontrolled Spread: Why COVID-19 Crushed Us and How We Can Defeat the Next Pandemic, Gottlieb revisits the federal response to the COVID-19 crisis from his post-government perch as a healthcare venture capitalist, media commentator, and member of Pfizer’s board — the company that launched one of the first safe and effective vaccines against COVID-19.

Along the way, he recounts the science, the policies, the successes, and notable failures in our country’s pandemic preparation — and makes a strong case that we need to already be planning ahead for more pandemics.

Gottlieb helmed the FDA from 2017-2019, leading the agency through policy battles over electronic cigarettes and the opioid epidemic. When the pandemic started, he worked with other public health experts to cull the evidence and make recommendations to the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

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Additionally, more experts say countries got lucky when it comes to the vaccines for COVID-19.

Lucky in the sense that a handful of scientists at the National Institutes of Health had been studying the coronavirus for a decade. It was how they were able to come up with a vaccine formula so quickly.

One of those scientists, Dr. Barney S. Graham, deputy director of the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), was warning his colleague of the need to start working on a vaccine for the next pandemic. That was in 2017 — more than 2 years before COVID-19 began its worldwide circulation.

Graham wrote about what was then a theoretical approach in 2018. He predicted the research might be able to identify antibodies that block the viruses, even before they caused epidemics.

Now, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the NIAID, said it’s time to put that idea into practice.

Fauci told the New York Times he’s proposing a project that would develop prototype vaccines for 20 families of viruses, any one of which could spark the next pandemic. It would cost billions of dollars, require lots of scientists, and it might take 5 years to get the first prototypes.

Scientists have already begun looking at what virus might cause the next pandemic. Researchers at the One Health Institute at the University of California, Davis, created a tool that ranks potential viruses by their risk levels to humans. 

You can check the interview with former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb here.

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