White House announces national strategy for combating biological threats

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The Biden administration's strategy calls for a 'whole of government' approach to prevent and contain future pandemics.

The Biden administration on Tuesday released details of a new national strategy to deal with the threat posed by viral outbreaks. The policy comes after the Trump administration was widely criticized for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, including its decision to disregard protocols developed under the Obama administration.

The National Biodefense Strategy and Implementation Plan for Countering Biological Threats, Enhancing Pandemic Preparedness, and Achieving Global Health Security details the Biden administration's multi-agency effort to "detect, prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from biological incidents."

The National Biodefense Strategy calls for new technologies to detect biological threats, that is, the release of biological agents such as viruses either naturally, by accident, or deliberately, earlier than is currently possible.

In a fact sheet on the strategy published on Oct. 18, the White House said the United States will work at "Stopping outbreaks at their source through strengthening global health security: The United States will support at least 50 countries to better prevent, detect, and respond to infectious disease threats, while encouraging other donors and partners to support an additional 50 countries."

The fact sheet said it will "build on the recently launched Center for Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics, which creates the equivalent of a 'national weather service' for infectious disease outbreaks, enabling rapid, effective decision-making to improve outbreak response using data, modeling, and analytics."

The strategy also outlined goals of improving testing capacity, quickly developing and deploying vaccines, and accelerating the development of therapeutic drugs to combat outbreaks.

The set of policies and goals from the Biden administration follows the widely criticized government handling of the COVID-19 pandemic under former President Donald Trump.

Under former President Barack Obama's administration, the National Security Council developed a 69-page playbook for fighting future pandemics. The Trump team disregarded the advice, with Politico reporting that an official said, "We are aware of the document, although it's quite dated and has been superseded by strategic and operational biodefense policies published since."

The Trump administration released conflicting messages on the severity of the virus and lacked vital equipment, such as masks and respirators, to deploy to states as infections rapidly increased.

Trump repeatedly misinformed the public about the virus. In January 2020, he falsely claimed that the virus was "totally under control," and in February that year he complained that the "fake news media" was inflaming public opinion by reporting on the devastation caused by the pandemic. In March 2020, he told Republican senators, "It will go away."

Trump also attacked masking, despite recommendations from health experts in favor of the practice.

The government's response led to public distrust of his administration and the CDC. An October 2020 Pew poll showed that 57% of voters supported Joe Biden over Trump to handle the virus. In FiveThirtyEight's average of national polls, 57.1% disapproved of Trump's handling of the virus when he left office in Jan. 2021.

Mass deployment of the COVID-19 vaccine began after Biden was sworn in as president as a result of his efforts to speed its distribution. By April 2021, the administration announced that it had deployed 200 million vaccine doses in 92 days, eight days ahead of its 100-day goal.

The Biden administration has continued vaccine distribution, recently pushing out an updated vaccine targeting newer variants of the coronavirus.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.