Out-innovating the next COVID-19 variant … and the next pandemic

By Tom Daschle and Tom Ridge

In an ideal world, COVID-19 would be a thing of the past, and another pandemic would be a distant possibility. Unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world, and there is no way to predict when the next dangerous COVID-19 variant or pandemic will emerge. Case in point: monkeypox. We need to be ready. Given the risks to the U.S. of another variant or pandemic, it is in the nation’s best interest to accelerate our research and development today. As members of the Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense, we know all too well the importance of being prepared for biological threats. We lived through an anthrax attack that changed our understanding of the steps needed to be prepared for future threats and have been examining our nation’s ability to defend against biological threats for seven years. One thing is clear: Preparedness requires significant and sustained investment in research and development.

This lesson has never been clearer than today. There may be no breathing room between Omicron — and now its BA.2 subvariant — and the next dangerous COVID-19 variant, or between COVID-19 and the next pandemic. In fact, they may occur simultaneously. If the United States does not treat these threats as certainties and invest proactively in research and development, we will continuously play catch-up. Waiting for disaster to strike before taking action once again will leave our country open to needless deaths and disability, necessitate enormous sums of emergency spending, and result in economic chaos disastrous to Americans and businesses small and large across the nation. In our country alone, the pandemic has taken more than 1 million lives. Globally, the death toll to date is 6.12 million. And up to 23 million Americans infected with SARS-CoV-2 have experienced “Long COVID,” which can result in debilitating symptoms as serious as heart or kidney failure that persist long after the infection subsides.

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