The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed the lives of nearly one million Americans, and has created economic losses of more than $16 trillion. Despite many challenges, a safe and effective vaccine was developed in less than a year and new treatments and diagnostics have been created. Although science and technology have made great strides in overcoming this disease, there is an ongoing threat of the next biological event that will greatly impact public health and the economy.
The Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense has released The Athena Agenda: Advancing the Apollo Program for Biodefense, a report containing specific government recommendations on how to prepare for and mitigate future biological threats. An important aspect of the Apollo Program for Biodefense is to detect new pathogens and trace them to the source, while rapidly distributing point-of-use tests to generate test data as soon as possible. Whether a pathogen’s origin is natural, human-generated, or accidental, this plan will generate real-time awareness and make health data available immediately to researchers; a resource federal entities lacked during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report also emphasizes the need to build on technologies created during the COVID-19 era, which requires leadership and resources in order to push technological advances even further. The Commission presents the following recommendations:
- Fully Implement the National Blueprint for Biodefense;
- Implement The Apollo Program for Biodefense (or its equivalent);
- Provide appropriations to implement The Apollo Program for Biodefense (or its equivalent);
- Produce a comprehensive mid- and post-crisis report on continuity of government for COVID-19;
- Revamp regulatory processes and policies to authorize or approve innovative technologies before, during, and after biological events;
- Develop a strategy and implementation plan for distributing at-home tests and therapeutics;
- Support urgently needed public health research during biological events; and
- Improve risk communications and build public trust
These recommendations are expected to provide support for vaccine development, therapeutic drugs to be taken in advance of outbreaks, pharmaceutical manufacturing, among many other public health safety measures. The Apollo Program for Biodefense’s success will be dependent on cooperation between the public and private sector, clinical trials, manufacturing scale, and government support for research. The Commission also recommends US leaders seek out international partners to create competition, with the goal of expediting research and innovation.
The 2021 report on the Apollo Program for Biodefense can be found here.
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