White House Seeks $65 Billion for ‘Apollo’ Plan to Prepare for Future Pandemics

WASHINGTON — The White House, stepping into delicate negotiations on Capitol Hill over funding to prevent future pandemics, unveiled on Friday a $65.3 billion preparedness plan that it likened to the Apollo missions to the moon, and called on Congress to immediately invest at least $15 billion for the effort.

But the $15 billion figure is only half of what Mr. Biden initially proposed, and the announcement on Friday drew complaints from health experts who warned lawmakers not to squander an opportunity to use the lessons of the coronavirus pandemic to fully prepare the nation for the next one.

The plan, drafted by President Biden’s science adviser, Eric S. Lander, and his National Security Council, would establish a full-time “Mission Control” office to coordinate the work of agencies across the government to spot emerging threats and ready the nation to fight them. It calls for $65.3 billion to be spent over the next seven to 10 years.

Roughly a third of the total investment, $24 billion, would be allocated to developing, testing and manufacturing new vaccines for a broad range of viral threats. Nearly $12 billion would be for developing therapeutics, and $5 billion for diagnostic tests; the rest would help develop early warning systems, improve the nation’s pandemic preparedness stockpile and build capacity for manufacturing vital supplies.

“We’ve got to seize the unique opportunity to transform our scientific capabilities so we’re prepared for the increasing frequency of biological threats on the horizon,” Dr. Lander said, adding, “And it’s vital that we start with an initial outlay of $15 to $20 billion to jump start these efforts.”

Understand the Infrastructure Bill

    • One trillion dollar package passed. The Senate passed a sweeping bipartisan infrastructure package on Aug. 10, capping weeks of intense negotiations and debate over the largest federal investment in the nation’s aging public works system in more than a decade.
    • The final vote. The final tally in the Senate was 69 in favor to 30 against. The legislation, which still must pass the House, would touch nearly every facet of the American economy and fortify the nation’s response to the warming of the planet.
    • Main areas of spending. Overall, the bipartisan plan focuses spending on transportation, utilities and pollution cleanup.
    • Transportation. About $110 billion would go to roads, bridges and other transportation projects; $25 billion for airports; and $66 billion for railways, giving Amtrak the most funding it has received since it was founded in 1971.
    • Utilities. Senators have also included $65 billion meant to connect hard-to-reach rural communities to high-speed internet and help sign up low-income city dwellers who cannot afford it, and $8 billion for Western water infrastructure.
    • Pollution cleanup: Roughly $21 billion would go to cleaning up abandoned wells and mines, and Superfund sites.

    Mr. Biden’s request for $15 billion to be included in a sweeping budget bill Democrats intend to pass in the coming weeks represents a significant compromise. In March, the White House announced that its American Jobs Plan would include $30 billion for pandemic preparedness. But on Capitol Hill, where moderate Democrats are pushing to lower the price tag of the $3.5 trillion package, lawmakers have considered spending $8 billion on pandemic preparedness.

    “It would be a travesty if, in this time of the worst pandemic in a century, the administration and Congress, both sides of the aisle, didn’t get together and provide substantial funding to greatly reduce the risk of future pandemics,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, who ran the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the Obama administration.

    In July, when it looked like Democrats on Capitol Hill might slash the president’s $30 billion request to $5 billion, Dr. Frieden and Tom Daschle, a former Senate Democratic leader who made health care his signature issue, wrote an opinion essay in The Hill that argued such a cut was unthinkable after the worst public health crisis in a century.

    Mr. Daschle said Friday that both $15 billion and $65 billion were “a fraction of what is needed now.” The Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense, a private organization of which he is a member, has proposed $100 billion over 10 years, he said.

    “I am very concerned that if we don’t commit the resources now, it will only get harder, and less likely, in the years ahead,” Mr. Daschle wrote in an email. “Now is the time to apply lessons learned.”

    Politics Updates

    Some Democrats have repeatedly called for the initial $30 billion to be included in the budget package. Among them are Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington and the chairwoman of the Senate health committee, and Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts. Ms. Warren and six of her Democratic colleagues recently wrote to the House and Senate leaders of both parties, calling on them to include $30 billion in the budget package “to prevent and prepare for future pandemics.”

    Understand Vaccine and Mask Mandates in the U.S.

      • Vaccine rules. On Aug. 23, the Food and Drug Administration granted full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for people 16 and up, paving the way for an increase in mandates in both the public and private sectors. Private companies have been increasingly mandating vaccines for employees. Such mandates are legally allowed and have been upheld in court challenges.
      • Mask rules. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July recommended that all Americans, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor public places within areas experiencing outbreaks, a reversal of the guidance it offered in May. See where the C.D.C. guidance would apply, and where states have instituted their own mask policies. The battle over masks has become contentious in some states, with some local leaders defying state bans.
      • College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Almost all are in states that voted for President Biden.
      • Schools. Both California and New York City have introduced vaccine mandates for education staff. A survey released in August found that many American parents of school-age children are opposed to mandated vaccines for students, but were more supportive of mask mandates for students, teachers and staff members who do not have their shots.  
      • Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and major health systems are requiring employees to get a Covid-19 vaccine, citing rising caseloads fueled by the Delta variant and stubbornly low vaccination rates in their communities, even within their work force.
      • New York City. Proof of vaccination is required of workers and customers for indoor dining, gyms, performances and other indoor situations, although enforcement does not begin until Sept. 13. Teachers and other education workers in the city’s vast school system will need to have at least one vaccine dose by Sept. 27, without the option of weekly testing. City hospital workers must also get a vaccine or be subjected to weekly testing. Similar rules are in place for New York State employees.
      • At the federal level. The Pentagon announced that it would seek to make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for the country’s 1.3 million active-duty troops “no later” than the middle of September. President Biden announced that all civilian federal employees would have to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel.

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