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Livermore, CA, and Washington, DC, February 24, 2021 —  The COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to take devastating tolls on America and the world, with hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions of infections in the United States alone. 

In August 2020, the Council on Strategic Risks (CSR) and Sandia National Laboratories convened public and private sector leaders to share their observations from the ongoing pandemic—and from their various efforts to stop it. The discussion synthesized lessons that will be critical to countering biological threats in the future. Today, they release the results of that dialogue in a new report, “Critical Steps in Preventing Future Pandemics: Early Lessons from the COVID-19 Crisis for Addressing Natural and Deliberate Biological Threats.”

“Infectious disease threats will continue to emerge, whether naturally, by accident, or deliberately. Stopping them from spreading and causing mass effects is possible even today, but we have much work to do bringing our assets to bear” said Honorable Andy Weber, Senior Fellow at CSR and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Programs. “We have to create true early warning systems for biological threats, and use the past year’s innovation in developing medical countermeasures rapidly as the starting point for even faster responses in the future.” 

The challenges to addressing the COVID-19 pandemic have been well documented. This report adds important new details for policy makers and the private sector regarding innovation and positive trends that emerged from pandemic responses. Perpetuating and expanding on what has worked will be just as critical as avoiding repeating past mistakes.  

“Many U.S. academic centers, government and private sector laboratories, and federal agencies quickly pivoted their people and facilities to addressing the COVID-19 fight,” said Dr. Anup Singh, Director of the Biological and Engineering Sciences at Sandia National Laboratories and a key leader in its pandemic response efforts. “Moving forward, we have to continue supporting the ability of these American assets to surge and stop biological threats when they arise—and continue what we’ve done well in public-private cooperation.” 

COVID-19 is not the last biological threat we will face—and it may not be the worst. Today’s report highlights steps that will help the United States and other countries prevent future emerging infectious diseases from growing into pandemics and bringing mass-scale devastation, such as:

  • Continue building on the cross-sector collaboration and agility shown in the COVID-19 response. 
  • Expand capabilities for detecting biological threats early. 
  • Prioritize ways to create and disseminate medical countermeasures even faster. 
  • Create the U.S. bio industrial base needed for rapid response to biological threats, and keep it healthy.  
  • Form coalitions, improve coordination, and expand steady-state and surge capacities.

“This report offers details to support these recommendations and ideas for implementing them. Moreover, if they are successful, they may be more effective than major government reorganization and other time-consuming steps,” said Christine Parthemore, Chief Executive Officer of CSR who formerly worked on countering weapons of mass destruction threats at the Department of Defense. 

This report is the second issued by Sandia and CSR in their collaboration to explore biological threats and solutions. Their 2020 report, Making Bioweapons Obsolete: A Summary of Workshop Discussions, was issued just as the COVID-19 pandemic was spreading globally. The COVID-19 crisis shows the mass disruption that biological threats can create—and drives home why such threats may be attractive to those wishing to cause strategic levels of devastation. 

The nation’s leaders have a historic responsibility to make this the last mass-scale pandemic, and render deliberate biological threats ineffective. The United States has the tools, technologies, and talent to reach this vision. The time to act is now. 

Read the report: Here