The Council on Strategic Risks’ CEO, Christine Parthemore – previously Senior Advisor to the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Programs – recently spoke to Tom Temin of the Federal News Network to highlight critically important lessons and ways forward for pandemic response, including for COVID-19. Below is an excerpt from the interview (though the full interview is worth a listen).
Tom Temin: All right, in the next couple of months, then what do you think should happen with respect to coronavirus and what should happen on a permanent basis with respect to how the nation is ready or not ready for the inevitable next one, whether it’s 10 years or 20 years and in the future?
Christine Parthemore: If that long. I suspect it’s not actually going to be that far into the future. Going forward, I think it’s really important again to take the lessons learned from this experience and share them broadly with the public. So there are significant lessons learned, evaluations done after the ebola crisis, for example, that have never been made public. They hold really important insights into how countries can get prepared and when there’s the first sign of an outbreak like this happening, there are these responses that you can gear up and start to get in queue. If they’re not needed, that’s great. But if they are, they’re rolling. Things like getting the diagnostic kits moving forward and diagnostic systems for specific diseases developed very, very rapidly and disseminated rapidly. It’s very possible to do those things if you’re prepared. I would also like to see a senior position back at the White House for this. You saw a senior person appointed during the ebola response. But even on a regular basis through much of the George W. Bush administration and much of the Obama administration, you had somebody either on the Homeland Security or National Security Councils in the White House, whose job it was to in part look for an early sign that we’re going to have a massive outbreak or pandemic, and we needed to start ramping up all of those things and getting them in gear for our country. One final thing that I would suggest is that we need to bring back robust exchanges with our international partners, and our allies in particular. When I was at the Department of Defense, we accompanied our colleagues in the CDC and FBI and the White House, and Health and Human Services, and FEMA, and we did exchanges with our counterparts in other countries like Japan, to share lessons for when national emergencies hit. Those were really, really invaluable for our countries sharing expertise with each other and learning in particular what went wrong in responses to different national crises, whether they be a biological event or a terrorist attack of some kind, or a massive natural disaster. We can all learn from what other countries do well and what we’ve done less well to inform how we do things going forward.
For more information on addressing biological threats, also see the recent report from the Council on Strategic Risks and Sandia National Laboratories, titled “Making Bioweapons Obsolete.”