The COVID-19 pandemic is a stark wake-up call for the United States to take biological threats seriously. The virus is on track to take the lives of more than 400,000 Americans and cost our economy trillions of dollars. The risks of future pandemics increase as technological progress eases barriers to modifying pathogens, raising the specter of novel biological agents causing diseases much worse than humanity has ever faced. Meanwhile, U.S. vulnerabilities to biological attacks have never been clearer to our adversaries.
However, there is a path forward. The Apollo Program for Biodefense would provide the United States the opportunity to mobilize the nation and lead the world to meet these challenges: a world where we detect and continually trace any new pathogen from the source; where we can distribute rapid point-of-person tests to every household in the country within days of that detection; where effective treatments are already in-hand; where vaccine development and rollout occur in weeks rather than years; and where pandemics will never again threaten the lives and livelihoods of Americans and people around the world.
With clarity of purpose, this world is possible within the next decade. While ambitious, consider that in 1960, it was hard to imagine landing a person on the moon. Yet in 1961, President John F. Kennedy committed the United States to achieve that goal “before the decade is out.” Nine years later, with 161 days to spare, the United States accomplished the Apollo 11 mission and made human history. The United States can, and must, similarly put an end to pandemics before this decade is out.
The existential threat that the United States faces today from pandemics is one of the most pressing challenges of our time; and ending pandemics is more achievable today than landing on the moon was in 1961. Advances in the life sciences, accelerated by the pandemic, have brought technology to an inflection point where ending pandemics is within our grasp, but only if we commit ourselves.
Even the most ambitious program (about $10 billion annually) would be a small fraction of the current cost of the COVID-19 pandemic and an investment in our health, economy, and national security. Along with the needed structural, policy, and leadership changes detailed in the Commission’s 2015 National Blueprint for Biodefense, The Apollo Program for Biodefense would effectively end the era of pandemic threats by 2030.