Ex-Homeland Security chief says pandemic exposes US vulnerabilities to bio threats

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — The poor handling of the coronavirus pandemic in America is an example to our enemies of just how vulnerable the United States is to biological threats, a defense expert told WCBS 880 on Wednesday.

Tom Ridge, the former governor of Pennsylvania and Secretary of Homeland Security in the aftermath of 9/11, spoke with WCBS 880 anchor Wayne Cabot saying the pandemic has exposed vulnerabilities and weaknesses in the country’s ability to defend itself against, and respond to, biological threats.

He says experts warned Congress about the nation’s lack of preparedness for an infectious disease event, and the pandemic has only validated their previous warnings.

Ridge says he now wants Congress and the Biden administration to “make sure it doesn't happen again.”

“We can't avoid the development of infectious diseases. Mother Nature's too clever for that,” Ridge adds. “But, we can avoid and prevent pandemics in the future.”

He, along with the Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense, are urging Congress to approve their proposed program, the Apollo Program for Biodefense, to help get ahead of future viruses before they have a chance to overtake the country.

Ridge says currently “we have really no strategy” in combating another pandemic, but “we have the science and technology to do it.”

“COVID is one of 25 different viral families, so let’s build prototype vaccines. Let’s have flexible, scalable manufacturing capability,” Ridge said. “Right now, people are clamoring for more and more vaccines. Let's build up that capability. How about developing, in the next 10 years, needle free method of drugs or vaccine administration? Think about that. Needle free. We can do this.”

Some say they are worried that developments needed to protect the country from viruses such as COVID-19 is a large investment, but Ridge says the United States has more than enough in its defense budget to commit to this project.

“This year, the Congress of the United States will approve a defense budget to protect us against our enemies of $700 billion,” Ridge said.

He says committing just $20 billion to biological risk reduction every year for the next 10 years would be more than enough to end the threat of future pandemics by the year 2030.

Without it, experts have warned that catastrophic infectious disease outbreaks will occur more and more regularly because of modern travel capabilities.

Ridge also addressed domestic threats as the Department of Homeland Security issued a bulletin Wednesday warning of the potential for lingering violence in wake of President Joe Biden's election victory and the Jan. 6 Capitol riots.

He says, as the former Secretary of Homeland Security, he expects the nation to hold those who breached the U.S. Capitol responsible for their actions.

“I was enraged because we had Americans attack the citadel of liberty and they questioned throughout – for months and months –the most basic and most fundamental institution in America, and that's our ability to elect our leaders, with a series of lies, of fabrications,” he said. “So my response was, let's be aggressive, let's pursue all those that were responsible…let's hold them accountable to every possible conceivable way.”

Ridge says he agrees with those who say domestic terrorism is now a greater threat to the United States of America than jihadism.

“It has been out there for a while, but now we have seen they have the audacity to start talking about it,” Ridge said.

Ridge, along with former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, also joined our sister station KYW Newsradio this week for a discussion on the Apollo Program for Biodefense. You can hear the full conversation below:

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