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Alexander's Column

Remember When ... George W. Bush Demanded Pandemic Preparedness?

In eight long years under Barack Obama's regime, pandemic preparedness was never a priority for his administration.

Mark Alexander · Apr. 7, 2020

Memo to all those Leftmedia armchair experts who are promoting the Democrats’ political pandemic agenda, using their selective 20/20 hindsight to second-guess the actions taken by the White House CV19 Task Force over the last three months: Do you remember when…?

Back in 2005, then-President George W. Bush was very determined to have Congress understand how serious the pandemic threat was, and he outlined the actions our nation needed to take in order to be better prepared.

In a speech to the National Institutes of Health, Bush, who had become increasingly alarmed after reading about the 1918 pandemic (historian John Barry’s The Great Influenza), made it his mission to ramp up our preparedness at all levels of government.

As I have noted previously, for more than three decades when I held executive appointments related to continuity of government and evaluated threats to that continuity, pandemic planning was always front and center in our preparedness exercises for both civilian and military leaders — understanding that there is no one-size-fits-all plan, and any plan on the table has to be fluid.

Bush was determined to implement a more comprehensive pandemic plan, and according to his Homeland Security advisor, Fran Townsend, over the remaining three years of his second term, Bush largely did that. For example, he launched the nation’s Pandemic Flu website, still a primary preparedness resource today. Bush’s proposed federal and state plan included a $7 billion budget.

Notably, among those attending President Bush’s 2005 conference was Dr. Anthony Fauci, now leading the White House CV19 Task Force. He was first appointed to the National Institutes of Health by Ronald Reagan in 1984, and he has served through the successive administrations to this day.

According to President Bush at that time: “A pandemic is a lot like a forest fire. If caught early it might be extinguished with limited damage. If allowed to smolder, undetected, it can grow to an inferno that can spread quickly beyond our ability to control it.”

In the context of the current CV19 pandemic scenario, the forest fire began on the other side of the planet, and its invisible embers were falling on our country months before China reported the fire — and before we knew those embers were igniting fires here — meaning there was no chance of containing them.

To Bush’s point about early detection, the most condemning evidence of China’s abject negligence is that pandemic researchers now estimate that if Xi Jinping had informed the world about the China Virus outbreak three weeks earlier than he did, it would have reduced the spread by 95%.

Notably, and to his credit, Bush said: “To respond to a pandemic, we need medical personnel and adequate supplies of equipment. In a pandemic, everything from syringes to hospital beds, respirators masks and protective equipment would be in short supply.” He also said, “If a pandemic strikes, our country must have a surge capacity in place that will allow us to bring a new vaccine on line quickly and manufacture enough to immunize every American against the pandemic strain.”

He concluded: “If we wait for a pandemic to appear, it will be too late to prepare. And one day many lives could be needlessly lost because we failed to act today. By preparing now, we can give our citizens some peace of mind knowing that our nation is ready to act at the first sign of danger, and that we have the plans in place to prevent and, if necessary, withstand an influenza pandemic.”

Regarding China as the most likely origin for the emergence of a pandemic virus, two years after Bush initiated his administration’s efforts to ramp-up for a pandemic, an article in Clinical Microbiology Reviews, “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus as an Agent of Emerging and Reemerging Infection” made clear the risk: “Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) coronavirus (SARS-CoV) is a novel virus that caused the first major pandemic of the new millennium. The rapid economic growth in southern China has led to an increasing demand for animal proteins including those from exotic game food animals such as civets. Large numbers and varieties of these wild game mammals in overcrowded cages and the lack of biosecurity measures in wet markets allowed the jumping of this novel virus from animals to human. Its capacity for human-to-human transmission, the lack of awareness in hospital infection control, and international air travel facilitated the rapid global dissemination of this agent.”

That describes the current outbreak of the novel SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus variant in Wuhan, China, and its viral spread worldwide.

The article concludes: “Coronaviruses are well known to undergo genetic recombination (375), which may lead to new genotypes and outbreaks. The presence of a large reservoir of SARS-CoV-like viruses in horseshoe bats, together with the culture of eating exotic mammals in southern China, is a time bomb. The possibility of the reemergence of SARS and other novel viruses from animals or laboratories and therefore the need for preparedness should not be ignored.”

So what happened?

The Bush plan was sound, as was his planned preparedness spending. But in eight long years under the regime of Barack Obama, despite the national-security planning we were doing related to biothreats, pandemic preparedness was never his administration’s priority.

In 2009, the Obama/Biden Administration’s HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testified before Congress, warning that the supplies of H95 respirator masks in the U.S. were inadequate, and that the U.S. did not have adequate stockpiles or the manufacturing capacity to meet the required protocol regarding H95 respirator masks in the case of a health emergency.

The Los Angeles Times and Bloomberg News have reported that the Obama/Biden Administration responsible for the N95 masks depletions from the national stockpile.

That being said, I would not blame Obama himself so much as I would the entrenchment of non-defense federal bureaucracies, which are geared to spend for what they need today rather than develop biodefense capacity for what our nation would need in the future.

I recall in 2012 reviewing a seminal and highly regarded Rand National Security Survey that concluded the most significant threat among all those arrayed against the U.S. — one “capable of destroying America’s way of life” — was a pandemic. But, on emerging diseases and pandemic preparedness, the Obama administration spent less than 1% of what we were spending on the Global War on Terrorism.

For the record, a decade ago, I would have estimated that the catastrophic threat of a rogue nation detonating a nuclear weapon within the U.S. was, statistically, greater than the threat of a catastrophic global pandemic. But our successful nuclear-weapon mitigation, nonproliferation, and interdiction efforts since the 9/11 Islamist attack on our nation have proven me wrong.

But at the same time, I also estimated that the potential consequences of a pandemic threat in terms of human lives and economic impact was much greater than the nuclear threat. That is precisely why, many years ago, we developed and published a comprehensive resource page on Disaster Preparedness Planning for a pandemic, including a Two-Step Individual Readiness Plan and a section on how to shelter in place. I believed then (demonstrably now) that all Americans should maintain a reasonable capability to shelter in place, particularly in the early phase of a disaster, because federal, state, and local governments will not have the resources to respond adequately.

Over the last 30 years, more than a few of my colleagues have considered the “insurance costs” of advance planning to be unnecessary. One silver lining as a result of the current CV19 pandemic, however, is that more Americans will demand our government be better prepared next time (and there will be a next time), and more Americans will, themselves, be prepared.

(Visit our comprehensive China Virus Pandemic response and recovery page, and see our related pages.

Semper Vigilans Fortis Paratus et Fidelis
Pro Deo et Libertate — 1776


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(Updated)

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