The Biden administration on Tuesday announced a new $88 billion national biodefense strategy that outlines the government’s plans for how to respond to future pandemics, public health emergencies and biological threats.
The launch of the “National Biodefense Strategy and Implementation Plan for Countering Biological Threats, Enhancing Pandemic Preparedness, and Achieving Global Health Security” included the signing of National Security Memorandum-15 (NSM-15).
The strategy also includes a new framework for the federal government’s role during a future crisis, which places the White House at the center of any such response, coordinating the actions of multiple federal agencies.
The White House said the new strategy adopts lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic.
In an interview with The Defender, University of Illinois international law professor Francis Boyle, J.D., Ph.D., a bioweapons expert who drafted the Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act of 1989, said:
“It appears that the enormous amount of money here, $88 billion over five years, when you add it on to well over, I would say, maybe $130 billion [in biodefense spending] since Sept. 11, 2001, means that they are gearing up to fight biological weapons warfare around the world.”
Boyle told The Defender that between October 2001 and October 2015, the federal government spent $100 billion “on biological warfare purposes.”
“To put that into perspective,” he said, “in constant dollars, the Manhattan Project to develop the atom bomb was $40 billion.”
Plan calls for development, distribution of new vaccines within 130 days
Biden’s new biodefense strategy includes the rapid development and deployment of new vaccines and diagnostics that it foresees in response to any future “biological threats.”
According to the White House’s plan, these “biological threats” may be “naturally occurring, accidental [or] deliberate,” “with the potential to significantly impact humans, animals (domestic and wildlife), plants, and the environment, and to negatively affect health, the economy, society, and security.”
According to STAT, the plan’s targets include:
- Being able to test for new pathogens within 12 hours.
- Making rapid tests available to the public within 90 days.
- Repurposing existing drugs within 90 days.
- Developing vaccines within 100 days.
- Manufacturing enough of the new vaccine for the entire U.S. population within 130 days and “for the high-risk global population” within 200 days.
- Developing new treatments within 180 days.
In justifying the new strategy, an unnamed senior Biden administration official quoted by The Hill said:
“We … know that the risk of another pandemic as bad or worse than COVID is a real threat. The new National Biodefense Strategy therefore outlines a bold vision … towards a world free of pandemics and catastrophic biological incidents.”
According to Defense One, other goals contained within the plan include “detecting the spread of pathogens before patients even begin to show symptoms like fever” and “scaling up the number of diagnostic test kits by tens of thousands within a week.”
A further element of the plan is “restoring community, the economy and the environment after a pandemic or biological incident,” The Hill reported.
The Biden administration’s plan also includes provisions for preparedness against the “accidental release of biological agents, and threats posed by terrorist groups or adversaries seeking to use biological weapons.”
Noting that COVID-19 “has highlighted that the United States and the world are vulnerable to biological threats, whether naturally occurring, accidental, or deliberate,” the plan states:
“It is a vital interest of the United States to prepare for, prevent, detect, respond to, and recover from biological threats at home and abroad.
“Therefore, countering biological threats, advancing pandemic preparedness, and achieving global health security are top national and international security priorities for the United States.
“Moving forward, the United States must fundamentally transform its capabilities to protect our Nation from biological threats and advance pandemic preparedness and health security more broadly for the world.”
According to STAT, an unnamed senior Biden administration official said Tuesday, “One of the important things that COVID has taught us is that we need to be able to move much faster to counter pandemic threats, and we also need to be prepared for completely unknown threats.”
The same official said the plan includes “moonshot” targets that are not scientifically feasible presently, but potentially could be within a decade.
According to the official, these new developments can target the 26 families of viruses that infect humans, “many of which we are far less prepared for than coronaviruses.”
Will Congress fund it?
Some questioned the plan’s price tag and the willingness of Congress to approve its funding.
One of the elements of the new strategy is its connection to a March 2022 request to Congress for $88 billion in funding over five years for “pandemic preparedness and biodefense,” a request that has thus far “stalled.”
These monies are intended, in part, “to fund new research to predict outbreaks before they become pandemics,” and “accelerate rapid testing to get ahead of where viruses are moving,” Defense One said.
Some of this money will come from the baseline funding of the federal agencies involved in this strategy, but it’s unclear whether Congress has “much of an appetite for additional public health spending,” according to STAT, which noted that “Republicans in Congress have balked at recent requests for funding the ongoing monkeypox and COVID-19 responses.”
According to the White House, the new strategy “builds on USAID’s [U.S. Agency for International Development] announcement earlier this year committing $150 million to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations to accelerate the development of life-saving vaccines and countermeasures against biological threats.”
The White House also included the $1.4 billion in “seed funding” it provided earlier this year to the “groundbreaking new Financial Intermediary Fund for Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness and Response at the World Bank.”
Boyle described the $88 billion in projected funding over the next five years as “a dramatic escalation” with “no justification from legitimate scientific reasons.”
He noted that since 2015, the federal government has “allocated anywhere from $5 to $6 billion per year on biological warfare purposes, which, being conservative, would mean a sum total from Sept. 11, 2001, until now, of $135-$140 billion.”
In his view, this money is being allocated “into further expanding the U.S. biological warfare industry … for the purpose of waging biological warfare,” and instead “should have been spent on the public health of the American people.”
‘You find Tony Fauci behind all of it’
Part of the price tag for the new biodefense strategy appears to be directed toward “recruiting, training and sustaining a robust, permanent cadre of health workers in all 50 states,” in the words of a senior Biden administration official quoted by Reuters.
Referring to it as a “public health army,” STAT reported that this “cadre of health workers” will include “laboratory technicians, veterinarians, and community health workers — to not only better detect emerging diseases but respond to them.”
In turn, Defense One reported that the strategy “aims to boost the number of local healthcare workers” and “traditional frontline healthcare workers,” but also, many new positions “related to research and data collection,” including “expanding the CDC’s epidemiology field officer program” and “bringing more epidemiologists to every state.”
The Biden administration also said it is “committed to helping at least 50 countries strengthen their own local capacities,” “strengthening public health workforces both in the United States and globally” and “establishing international mechanisms to bolster laboratory safety,” according to STAT.
For some, “international mechanisms” may bring to mind the recent and ongoing efforts by the World Health Organization (WHO) to establish a renewed “global pandemic treaty” — efforts in which the United States under the Biden administration has played a leading role.
As previously reported by The Defender, the Biden administration expressed broad support for a “pandemic treaty” and previously headed negotiations on this issue.
In his interview with The Defender, Boyle also drew connections between the Biden administration’s new strategy, and efforts to develop the “pandemic treaty.”
Referring to the Biden administration’s recently signed executive order on “advancing biotechnology and biomanufacturing,” Boyle remarked that it makes mention of “dual-use research of concern, and research involving potentially pandemic and other high-consequence pathogens.”
For Boyle, “dual-use research” refers to the development of both “offensive and defensive biological weapons of warfare,” noting that “when it comes to biological warfare, defense means offense.”
“If they are saying they are doing all this for defensive purposes, it’s because they are also planning offensive use of biological warfare weapons, with the defense to defend themselves in the event that adversaries respond in kind,” Boyle added.
This then connects to the “pandemic treaty,” according to Boyle, noting that Dr. Anthony Fauci has close ties to the WHO’s executive committee:
“If you recall, Trump pulled us out of the WHO. The first act Biden did was to put us back into the WHO … and he appointed Tony Fauci as the U.S. government’s representative on the WHO executive committee.
“So the same guy supporting this ‘dual research of concern’ … is also implementing, supervising this new WHO treaty.”
Biden’s strategy also “calls for international mechanisms that can help strengthen lab safety and biosecurity practices around the world,” especially in light of “questions about the risks and benefits of research into potentially dangerous viruses,” including the COVID-19 Wuhan lab-leak theory.
This may indicate that Biden is seeking to expand gain-of-function research globally. As recently reported by The Defender, facilities conducting such research — including a facility where a purportedly “more lethal” strain of the COVID-19 Omicron variant was developed — are currently being expanded in the U.S.
As part of the new strategy, a “policy coordination structure for biodefense among government agencies with oversight by the White House” was signed, Reuters reported.
According to The Hill, this memorandum “outlines the coordination structure for biodefense across federal agencies, directs agencies to prioritize biodefense, directs the intelligence community to track evolving threat landscapes and ensures the government is continuously reviewing and adjusting priorities.”
Boyle, an outspoken critic of gain-of-function research, said it appears such research will be an integral part of the Biden administration’s new biodefense strategy. He told The Defender:
“It’s clear in the language that they are going full steam ahead on abusing DNA, genetic engineering, gain-of-function, synthetic biology, gene splicing, CRISPR-Cas9, to develop biological warfare weapons.”
He said that the proposed WHO pandemic treaty includes language on “measures to provide oversight and report on laboratories that do work to genetically alter organisms in order to increase pathogenicity and transmissibility.”
For Boyle, “this means gain-of-function work, using and abusing DNA engineering, synthetic biology, CRISPR-Cas9. That’s in the WHO treaty.”
“It all ties up,” Boyle added. “The executive order, the biodefense strategy, the WHO treaty. You find Tony Fauci behind all of it.”
“When you add all this up together, it seems to me they’re gearing up to prepare to wage offensive biological warfare and preparing for the defense, for other states to respond with biological warfare weapons.”
Plan calls for coordination across federal agencies under White House control
The administration’s new biodefense strategy will utilize more than 20 federal agencies, while “oversight for the strategy will be at the White House, under the national security advisor.”
According to a senior Biden administration official, the new strategy “directs the U.S. intelligence community to monitor for threats and ensure the United States ‘continuously adapts to this evolving threat landscape’ by holding annual exercises,” to “prevent epidemics and biological incidents before they happen,” Reuters reported.
This may bring to mind exercises and simulations that took place just prior to the COVID-19, monkeypox and anthrax outbreaks, which appeared to predict, with remarkable similarity, what was to follow.
According to Biden’s new strategy, the heads of the relevant federal agencies “shall implement the Biodefense Strategy, as well as related strategies such as the U.S. Global Health Security Strategy, and include biodefense-related activities … within their strategic planning and budgetary processes.”
Federal agencies also will be expected to coordinate with each other and with non-federal agencies on matters pertaining to “the biodefense enterprise.”
Is new strategy a ‘moonshot,’ or ‘pie-in-the-sky’?
In addition to questions about funding, some also questioned the feasibility of the new plan.
Defense One wrote that meeting some of the “moonshot” goals of the strategy “will require scaling up data-collection efforts at research facilities around the globe,” in addition to significantly ratcheting up a host of other research-related efforts, noting that the administration “did not specify exactly what technologies they will invest in.”
According to Defense One, “new approaches to RNA research” to “ease pandemics” may need to be developed, in addition to “new forms of plant-based vaccines” that could “allow for the scaling up of vaccine production by orders of magnitude.”
An unnamed senior Biden administration official quoted by Defense One acknowledged that the “moonshots” foreseen by the plan “are not possible today, but these capabilities can be achieved and are within our reach with the right resources over the next five to 10 years.”
Hiring more health workers may also prove challenging for the Biden administration due to a shortage of nurse practitioners that is expected to grow by 2025, along with looming “shortages of other healthcare workers.”