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CONNECTICUT – Failure to adopt recommendations from a 2015 biodefense commission are partly responsible for the rapid spread of COVID-19, according to former Senator and one-time Democratic VP pick Joe Lieberman. During a recent interview with The One Way Ticket Show podcast, a disappointed Lieberman tells host Steven Shalowitz that “not much was done to implement” the bioterrorism defense recommendations he and former Governor Tom Ridge made nearly five years ago.
Reflecting on his work on biodefense in 2015, Lieberman says that “the stockpiles of Personal Protective Equipment of testing equipment of machines that could help people with breathing problems, all of those were in short supply or no supply,” when the Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense, co-chaired by Lieberman and Ridge, issued its initial report.
Lieberman noted that “when President Trump set up the Coronavirus task force in the White House, he asked Vice President Pence to run it,” which was part of the 2015 recommendations.
“We actually recommended that the Vice President, whoever it was, this goes back to 2015, it was Joe Biden, be put in charge, because it needed somebody in the White House.”
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Listen to the entire interview with Sen. Lieberman on The One Way Ticket Show. (https://bit.ly/3kBGqb2)
(11:19) We started working on this in 2014. We put out a report in 2015 and we essentially said this country is not prepared for either a bioterrorist attack or an infectious disease pandemic.
(11:38) Incidentally, when I started this, I think the same is true of Tom Ridge, I was really focused on a terrorist using a biological weapon against us but as I went on and what I learned it seemed to me that the much more likely and devastating scenario was an infectious disease pandemic.
(12:01) Unfortunately we saw this when this pandemic broke out in January, February and March of this year. Incidentally President Trump did take one of our pieces of advice in our 2015 report and issued a national biodefense strategy in 2018 but not much was done to implement it. Congress adopted some laws that we recommended but not much was funded or implemented.
(12:36) The public could see what was wrong. The stockpiles of Personal Protective Equipment of testing equipment of machines that could help people with breathing problems, all of those were in short supply or no supply. Whereas, and we recommended that we had to immediately build up all those supplies.
(13:05) There really were no medical countermeasures. We studied flu vaccines and it was astounding to me how primitive is the way we were making influenza vaccines every flu season. And how hit and miss it was. And some seasons it turned out afterwards that the estimate was that the flu vaccine really only protected 40% of the people who took it. So, there were a lot of messages which were ignored.
(13:38) In fairness to this administration, they made a lot of mistakes in things certainly the president said. But they really had to run to catch up and I remember something Tom Ridge said when he first appeared before the Homeland Security Committee, which I chaired, and he was then the Secretary of Homeland Security back in 2005 probably. And I said, “How is it Mr. Secretary?” And he said, being secretary of homeland security is like being asked to fly a plane while the plane is still being built, and that was exactly the feeling I had when this started.
(14:22) One of the lessons learned (in 2015) is that there was no clear leadership of the whole federal government potential response to an infectious disease pandemic. We recommended this in 2015 and you could see it. We actually recommended that the Vice President, whoever it was, this goes back to 2015 it was Joe Biden, be put in charge, because it needed somebody in the White House. And nothing ever happened on that either under Obama or Trump. It happened as we know now that when President Trump set up the Coronavirus task force in the White House, he asked Vice President Pence to run it. But we need strong leadership and a plan and investments. After this pandemic is over or before it’s over and before the next one starts which will surely happen, so that we’re ready for it a lot more than, obviously, we were this time.
On “The One Way Ticket Show” podcast, Host Steven Shalowitz explores with high profile and fascinating people where they would go if given a one way ticket – no coming back. Their destinations may be in the past, present, future, real, imaginary or state of mind. Listen to the show on the site: www.theonewayticketshow.com or wherever you download your podcasts.