Does Congress know what it would take to stop the next pandemic?

In the US, pandemic preparedness has long been neglected among national security concerns.

One would think that the harrowing experience of the past year would change that. But in light of recent reports that the $30 billion in pandemic preparedness funding proposed in the American Jobs Plan might be cut to $5 billion in the bipartisan, negotiated compromise, it’s not clear whether Covid-19 has been enough to teach the US its lesson.

For decades, public health policy experts have tried to convince the US government to take real steps to prepare for a respiratory pandemic.

“It is the prospect of another such pandemic [like the Spanish flu] — not a nuclear war, or a terrorist attack, or a natural disaster — that poses the greatest risk of a massive casualty event in the United States,” Ron Klain, now the White House chief of staff, argued in Vox in 2018.

“All of this stuff was a no-brainer 30 years ago,” Amesh Adalja, at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told me. “We’ve been briefing Congress, we’ve been doing this since 1997. We were ignored. All those glossy reports telling people what to do? Those gathered dust in someone’s desk drawer.”

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