Ex-FDA Head Wants the CIA Involved in ‘Stopping’ the Next Pandemic
"Historically the public health community didn’t want the clandestine services anywhere near its mission"
Dr. Scott Gottlieb is the former head of the Food and Drug Administration from 2017 to 2019 and the author of “Uncontrolled Spread: Why Covid-19 Crushed Us and How We Can Defeat the Next Pandemic.”
Excerpted from an interview with Bloomberg:
Bloomberg: How do we prevent the next pandemic?
Gottlieb: Covid-19 revealed systemwide failures that point to the need to develop certain capabilities that we don’t have. We need to have a base of manufacturing capability in the United States for things like biologicals, such as vaccines and antibody-based drugs. We need to have the capability to scale diagnostic manufacturing much more quickly.
Typically, it’s been the job of the Centers for Disease Control to develop the test for novel pathogens, but the CDC has failed to do that. And not just with Covid-19. It failed to do it with the Zika infection in a timely fashion.
We now have a history where the systems that we relied on don’t work. So we need to rely on entities other than the CDC. We need to lean more heavily on the private sector to develop diagnostics in the setting of an outbreak with a new pathogen.
Public health authorities always anticipated that an epidemic would be regionalized. For example, a city would be attacked with anthrax or smallpox. So we would be able to focus resources on a very defined geographic area. We didn’t anticipate a national epidemic that would require us to do this on a national scale.
We need to have a capability to be able to distribute vaccines more effectively.
We need to start looking at public health through the lens of national security and involving our tools of national security in this mission.
Bloomberg: How would national security agencies play a role in stopping the next pandemic?
Gottlieb: Historically, the national security agencies wanted to avoid public health issues. And the public health community didn’t want the clandestine services anywhere near its mission out of concern that everyone with a white coat would be perceived to be a spy.
Covid-19 showed us that the intelligence agencies need to be involved in gathering information about emerging infections around the world. This information is held by soft targets.
If anything, Covid-19 has conditioned nations to be less likely to share information in the future. Most nations have learned is that if you’re a host to an outbreak of a novel or dangerous pathogen, the first thing that’s going to happen is other countries are going to erect trade and travel restrictions on you. The economic implications of being host to an outbreak have now grown more significant than they were in the past. This is going to make even friendly nations less likely to be forthcoming. [Yeah I imagine that with China now standing accused of having created a bioweapon the next time its incentive to report it has detected a novel virus will be much lower. ]
Look what happened when the U.K. announced that it had the new, more contagious variant of Covid-19 circulating. The first thing the French did was closed the Channel. If even friendly nations are going to behave like that with each other, imagine if we have a nation that isn’t so friendly.
Are they going to be so willing to share this information in the future? Probably not. We’re going to need to have more ability to gather this, and that’s going to require us to lean on intelligence agencies.