Biden admin creates group to prepare for future COVID threats

Biden admin creates group to prepare for future COVID threats

After the arrival of the omicron strain, the Biden administration assembled a group that will prepare new countermeasures for the emergence of future COVID 19 variants and other pandemic threats.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, or OSTP, will focus on developing vaccines, treatments, diagnostic tests and other tools, according to officials familiar with the matter, who asked for anonymity because the details aren't yet public. They said that it will help prepare the country in case of new versions of the virus surface, and for future biological threats beyond COVID- 19, as well as for future biological threats beyond COVID-19.

The group was created not specifically as a response to omicron, but it begins its work as the variant fuels unprecedented case counts and hospitalizations in the U.S. Health officials have warned that new variants could come up and change the understanding of, and threat from the virus.

There are studies showing that omicron causes milder infections than previous strains, but hospitals have seen beds fill with an influx of patients. Businesses have been disrupted by infected employees having to isolate, and rapid tests have been in short supply.

The new group won't focus on day-to- day pandemic response or the omicron variant, or things like distribution of vaccines, testing and therapeutic treatments, unlike the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

It will work on preparedness projects that could be used to manage waves of new variants that could emerge within six months to two years, as well as other threats.

The U.S. will bolster its long-term biodefenses by building and exercising new capabilities, according to the people.

The task force, led by President Joe Biden's science adviser and OSTP Director Eric Lander and assistant secretary for preparedness at the Department of Health and Human Services, met for the first time on Tuesday, according to the people.

Its mission builds on a $65.3 billion 10-year proposal drafted by the National Security Council and the OSTP to combat future pandemic threats. According to the people, the task force will draw on aspects of the plan to test some of those longer-range ideas in the medium-term.

The task force focuses on potential innovations that could become available in the next 24 months, building on the vast range of advances and lessons since the beginning of the epidemic, OSTP said in a statement.

Representatives from the White House Coronavirus Task Force, as well as leaders from HHS, attended the virtual meeting, which will continue to be held weekly, according to one of the people. Among those present were officials from the Defense Department, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, the Office of the Surgeon General, and the National Institutes of Health.

The task force could focus on developing diagnostic tools that distinguish between variants to help guide treatment, updating vaccines to protect against multiple variants, identifying new drug candidates, or securing additional manufacturing capacity, according to the people.

The task force will work together with health-care companies, even though corporate executives weren't invited to the initial meeting.

In a Wednesday meeting with the Council on Foreign Relations, Cecilia Rouse said that the new group will focus on managing the endemic phase, where the virus circulates seasonally.