‘Lives would have been saved’ – Disease X Act would change the way U.S. prepares for pandemics

The country has a lot of work to do to save lives before the next pandemic hits -- That’s the focus of new legislation on Capitol Hill.

This bill is called the Disease X Act of 2023. Lawmakers use the “X” because we don’t know yet what pathogen will cause the next big outbreak.

“COVID may largely be in the rear-view mirror for most folks, but infectious disease outbreaks are happening,” said Congresswoman Lori Trahan D-Mass., who is one of the sponsors.

The goal is to accelerate the development and production of countermeasures, specifically against future viral threats. This bipartisan legislation gives an official funding stream to do research and form public-private partnerships in order to create things like vaccines, treatments and tests.

“This is a really important step toward ensuring that we never experience the kind of chaos that we saw in the first few months of the pandemic,” Trahan said. “We really have to be forward looking to ensure that we are in a good position to respond should this happen again.”

Experts said this is a true shift in how the country prepares for infectious diseases. It would move from reactive, like we saw with the coronavirus, to proactive.

“The more prepared we are, the less damage those viruses can cause,” Dr. Amesh Adalja, infectious disease physician and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said. “This has to be thought of as a sustainable effort, one that doesn’t go through these boom-and-bust cycles, one that’s thought of more like national security or the Department of Defense budget, where you can actually plan multi-year for threats that might emerge.”

We asked had this law been in place before COVID-19 spiked, if lives would have been saved.

“I do think lives would have been saved,” Adalja responded. “Even if, for example, the Pfizer vaccine, which was the first vaccine approved in the United States was approved one week earlier than it was, that would have saved lives. So, when it comes to a pandemic, the quicker you can get effective countermeasures into the population, the more lives you’re going to save.”

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