We made a key mistake before COVID-19 came — but we can fix it before the next pandemic

We made a key mistake before COVID-19 came — but we can fix it before the next pandemic
(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Michael Matkin)

Staff Sgt. Gisele Adanlete-Engram, 161st Medical Squadron aerospace medical technician, puts on personal protection equipment before entering a COVID-19 hot zone at an alternate care facility on the Navajo Nation in Chinle, Ariz., June 1, 2020. Arizona National Guard service members are assisting the Public Health Service while caring for COVID-19 patients by providing security and other non-medical tasks as needed.

The House of Representatives just took a much-needed first step in preparing for the next pandemic. The Energy and Commerce Committee announced that the Build Back Better Act will include $15 billion for pandemic preparedness. This modest investment -- less than .5% of the Build Back Better package -- will massively pay off in helping us avoid another calamity like COVID-19.

$15 billion isn't enough, but it is an important starting point. We must come to terms with the grim certainty that another pandemic will devastate our country in our lifetimes. Our government cannot afford another scramble for vaccine technology and personal protective equipment. We must prepare for the next pandemic today.

Should Congress fail to pass at least $15 billion of pandemic preparedness funding, Americans will suffer more the next time we face a pandemic. COVID-19 has killed over 600,000 Americans and cost this country $16 trillion dollars, and experts say that the next pandemic could be right around the corner. That's not to mention that COVID-19 has had disproportionate, devastating effects on disabled Americans, communities of color, those living in poverty and other marginalized groups. The reality is, pandemic preparedness efforts aren't just about preventing economic ruin for our country — it's about stopping what is in all reality a matter of life and death for marginalized communities.

The next pandemic is not some distant, hazy mirage. It's the Delta variant, the Mu variant, or the variant that will follow that is right at our doorstep. That's why we need Congress to fully fund President Biden's program, which will help develop and produce future vaccines, stock hospitals with PPE and medical equipment, and create stockpiles of key medications to help mitigate the severity of future pandemics among individuals who contract it. None of this is outrageous spending: this is common sense.

Polling from Data for Progress and Guarding Against Pandemics finds the American people agree. A bipartisan majority, 71 percent of Americans, say they want a full $30 billion to be allocated towards pandemic preparedness. Additionally, when voters were asked how the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee who oversees this funding should spend their allocated $726 billion in the upcoming budget package, a plurality of voters said that pandemic prevention should be the committee's top priority.

Members of Congress should answer that call and ensure that pandemic preparedness is something we never have to debate again. (Truly, isn't it absurd we're debating it now?) We've already seen this type of investment make an impact: investments in vaccine technology are how we were able to develop and distribute the COVID-19 vaccines so quickly this spring. In fact, if we had invested further in vaccine preparedness — instead of slashing funds as lawmakers did in 2019 — experts say we could have had a viable coronavirus vaccines as early as May 2020.

The sad reality is our public health has been a chronically underfunded area of federal and local budget for the past decades, and the fight we're seeing now is no different. Like far too many areas of government, it's hard not to see this lack of investment as a lack of appetite from lawmakers (even those who state they're in favor).

No one gets rich with pandemic preparedness, and you can't take a photo-op in front of a pandemic that's never happened. But you can prevent a future global crisis.

Gabe Bankman-Fried is the founder and director of Guarding Against Pandemics. Prior to that, he was a staffer on Capitol Hill and worked for Civis Analytics, where he improved private House forecasting and resource allocation models that advised Democratic Political Action Committees and large donors giving hundreds of millions of dollars in the 2018 midterm elections.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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