By Jackson du Pont
On Tuesday, September 27th, the Council on Strategic Risks partnered with Building Stronger Futures to host a Congressional Luncheon with Congressman Ritchie Torres [D-NY] and Dr. Beth Cameron. Rep. Torres introduced Dr. Cameron, who currently serves as a Professor at the Brown University School of Public Health and Senior Advisor to Brown’s new Pandemic Center, and previously was the Senior Director for Global Health Security and Biodefense at the White House National Security Council. She discussed the future of biosecurity, and considerations for how the U.S. government can work to prevent the next pandemic. The event’s discussion focused on how new investments into pathogen early warning systems and adapted response frameworks can speed up the government’s decision-making to effectively respond to biological threats.
Congressman Torres opened the lunch with remarks emphasizing the importance of reducing and mitigating all biological threats, whether natural, accidental, or deliberate. Touching on how the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately affected his constituents from the South Bronx, Torres called for a cross-sectoral approach to address biological risk by noting how “we have no choice but to be prepared to prevent infectious diseases from becoming pandemics.” Torres concluded by acknowledging the many challenges which lay ahead, including the increasing rate of zoonotic spillover events made more likely by climate change, the importance of reducing risks posed by synthetic biology, and the barriers to early, decisive action during an emergency.
Given her long-standing career in advancing biosecurity issues, Dr. Cameron shared invaluable insights as she emphasized the need to act early, often, and definitively to prevent the next biological catastrophe. “We are underprepared for health emergencies, but we are catastrophically underprepared for worst case scenarios,” she noted. Outlining how there are incentives against acting fast, and that movements for acting fast are not systemic or routine, Dr. Cameron proposed a new approach. Her presentation explained how the world needs increased capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to threats, more effective decision-making tools, better data to support decision-making, and new innovation for biosafety and biosecurity.
The talk between Congressman Torres and Dr. Cameron following the presentation highlighted the importance of a new, diverse set of pandemic decision-makers who prioritize the needs of communities and who are able to act decisively in times of crisis. Speaking on how to modernize the federal government’s approach to biological threats, both Torres and Dr. Cameron called for a “FEMA ethos” to be adopted across the government to prioritize rapid action.
CSR is incredibly grateful for the opportunity to engage with Congressman Torres and Dr. Cameron. As CSR is committed to making all biological threats obsolete and a danger of the past, we will continue to foster partnerships with leaders and champions on this issue to deliver on our mission.