The recent pandemic has exposed the strangle hold China has on the WHO, the lax safeguards around important research, and the fact that the cupboard was bare when it was time to tap our Strategic National Stockpile. Even worse many of the tools we need to be prepared are manufactured in China and we saw our access to them are subject to the whims of the Chinese communist party.
By addressing these structural problems now we can ensure that we will not be reliant on China to ensure the health and safety of our own population, but only if we take the steps to prepare ourselves.
Holding China Accountable
From making it nearly impossible to investigate the origins of COVID-19 to preventing the WHO from even mentioning Taiwan and it’s early success fighting COVID China has continued to resist being a responsible global community member since the start of the pandemic, and it’s a threat to all of us. Even worse China has said that they are following vital safety standards when it comes to dangerous viral research, but instead “there ha[ve] been four incidents of SARS-related lab breaches since 2004.” We must ensure that if China wants to participate in international organizations it is held to account and must play by the same rules as everyone else.
We also need to ensure domestic capacity for key PPE, vaccine manufacturing, and other key tools needed to respond to the next pandemic. We simply cannot rely on China to provide these tools the next time we ask.
Preparing for the Next Pandemic
They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, which is why it was so unfortunate that when the country needed millions of N95s they simply weren’t in the Strategic National Stockpile because so many had been used in the H1N1 flu and Ebola responses. We must ensure the United States government can give purchase guarantees to domestic manufactures to ensure that we have the supplies lines needed to refill the stockpile. This will create jobs here at home, ensure we always have access to vital supplies, and ensure that we always control our own fate.
We can also make key investments now to develop the next generation of PPE and vaccines to drastically reduce the impact of the next potential pandemic. Instead we’ve seen Washington go in the opposite direction, failing to even properly fund access to voluntary booster shots in the fall, much less invest the resources needed to develop the next generation of vaccines.
Making Research Safer
Whatever the origin of the pandemic recent reporting has made clear that we fundamentally are not taking biosecurity seriously enough at home or abroad. At home this means we have to separate oversight of important but dangerous dual use research away from the NIH and instead ensure that we have the people dedicated to preventing the next pandemic in charge of safety. We need record investments in research and development but also must ensure a serious reevaluation of safety is part of that process.