Maybe We Could Have Predicted COVID-19, but Donald Trump Defunded the PREDICT Program
The Trump administration ignored multiple warnings leading up to 2020 about the potential harm a global pandemic could cause — from its own government and from global organizations like the United Nations. The administration also canceled programs aimed at pandemic preparedness and dismantled the National Security Council’s global health section.
One canceled program, which could have been invaluable, was the PREDICT program.
The PREDICT program was a global effort, launched in 2009 by the U.S. Agency for International Development, and tasked with identifying viruses that had the potential to become pandemics. The program specifically tracked coronaviruses and has identified and shut down more than 160 potential coronavirus threats.
The project had been funded in two five-year grant periods and was due to be funded for another five-year cycle beginning in 2019.
The Trump administration, however, ended funding for the program in September of 2019, just months before COVID-19 first appeared in China.
The PREDICT program linked foreign laboratories in multiple countries that worked together to identify and halt pandemics. Among the foreign labs that were working together through the PREDICT program was the Wuhan lab that identified SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
Donald Trump cut off funding to a program tasked specifically with uncovering new coronavirus threats in conjunction with foreign labs, including a critical lab in Wuhan, months before the outbreak.
This move, of course, was unlikely malicious. Just breathtakingly shortsighted. Real leaders can think beyond themselves and use all the tools at their disposal to predict and stop threats before they occur.
The pandemic “didn’t surprise us, unfortunately,” said Jonna Mazet, executive director of the One Health Institute in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, who served as the global director of PREDICT for a decade. “The work had been ongoing for some time. And when the crisis hits, everybody stands up and takes notice and says, ‘OK, we believe you.’”