The United States should join other leading nations in developing a new global agreement on fighting pandemics such as COVID-19. These devastating viruses that spread from animals to humans are very likely to emerge again. The only question is when, so the need to prepare is urgent.
Such an agreement was proposed Tuesday 30 by the prime ministers of Britain, Germany and the Netherlands, the president of France and the leaders of 21 other countries, joined by the director of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in an op-ed published in a number of European newspapers and elsewhere.
The participation of the WHO leader is significant because after a failed effort by his organization to find out how and when COVID-19 first infected humans, he was forced to conclude that China is being deliberately obstructive.
The heads of government wrote that such an agreement is needed to build better cross-border cooperation on such matters as alert systems, data sharing and research, production and distribution of diagnostics, personal protective equipment, medicines to fight the disease and vaccines.
COVID-19 has caused more than 2.8 million deaths worldwide so far, and it's still running its course.
The more than 550,000 COVID deaths in the United States as of Wednesday exceed our nation’s military losses in World Wars I and II combined. Indeed, COVID-19 has been the largest global catastrophe since World War II. The leaders proposing a new agreement argue that a new global order comparable in scale to the one that followed World War II is what the world now requires.
China must be invited to join such an effort and improve its international cooperation.
Meanwhile, the United States needs to learn from its failures during the pandemic, beginning with the failure of our early warning systems to detect the disease promptly enough to begin preparing before it reached our shores and our botched early response to the virus after it arrived here.
The national pandemic response plan initiated by President George W. Bush also failed to achieve its purposes. Plans were prepared and regularly updated, but they promptly went on a shelf, and no one inquired whether they would work. The failure to develop an effective COVID-19 test in a timely manner was another major setback. A new approach is required to improve national, state and local readiness to face another pandemic. It needs to be adequately supplied and frequently exercised.
Thankfully, we have made unexpectedly rapid progress in developing and deploying vaccines against COVID-19. But until the world population reaches a sufficiently high level of immunity to the disease, it will continue to disrupt our daily lives and national economies around the world.
Improved national defenses against pandemics are urgently needed. But they will not succeed unless there is worldwide cooperation. President Joe Biden should rise to the challenge and assume a leadership role in improving international cooperation against future pandemics.