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Members of a medical team monitor simulated patients infected with Ebola. Photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

The next global plague is coming, Ed Yong writes in the Atlantic, and the U.S. is "disturbingly vulnerable."

The big picture: The total number of outbreaks every 10 years "has more than tripled since the 1980s," Yong says. Bill Gates told Yong that if there was a severe flu pandemic, more than 33 million people could be killed across the world in 250 days.

"Boy, do we not have our act together."
— Bill Gates
The possibilities
  • With 7.6 billion people in the world, and more than half of them living in cities, the chance for an epidemic to spread is increasingly high.
  • Yong writes: "In these dense throngs, pathogens can more easily spread and more quickly evolve resistance to drugs."
The concerns

Treating a plague is expensive: Per Yong, treating three Ebola patients in the U.S. in 2014 cost more than $1 million.

  • A severe flu pandemic would cost an estimated $683 billion, and "global output would fall by almost 5 percent—totaling some $4 trillion."

It takes time, which people don't always have: In 2009, it took four months before vaccines could begin to be rolled out to treat the new pandemic strain of the flu.

  • "By then the disaster was already near its peak. Those doses prevented no more than 500 deaths...Some 12,500 Americans died," Yong writes.

It requires a coordinated federal response, which Yong says "is harder than one might think."

  • In 2016, when President Obama asked Congress for $1.9 billion to fight the Zika virus, "Congress devolved into partisan squabbling," and it took more than seven months to come up with the money ($1.1 billion).
The optimism
  • The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations was created last year, and governments and nonprofits have already pledged $630 million. It's focusing on specific illnesses, and pushing towards testing vaccines and stockpiling them.
  • The coalition is also working towards "platform technologies" that would be able to create a vaccine for any kind of virus within 16 weeks of its discovery, Yong writes.
The bottom line

Preparing and confronting a pandemic relies on multiple moving parts, from the doctors to the nurses, appropriate hospital isolation for infected patients, vaccine delivery, Congress appropriation, and more. The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Anthony Fauci, told Yong: "It's like a chain—one weak link and the whole thing falls apart. You need no weak links."

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Senate action on stimulus bill continues as Dems reach deal on jobless aid

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Democratic leaders struck an agreement with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) on emergency unemployment insurance late Friday, clearing the way for Senate action on President Biden's $1.9 trillion stimulus package to resume after an hours-long delay.

The state of play: The Senate will now work through votes on a series of amendments that are expected to last overnight into early Saturday morning.

Capitol review panel recommends more police, mobile fencing

Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

A panel appointed by Congress to review security measures at the Capitol is recommending several changes, including mobile fencing and a bigger Capitol police force, to safeguard the area after a riotous mob breached the building on Jan. 6.

Why it matters: Law enforcement officials have warned there could be new plots to attack the area and target lawmakers, including during a speech President Biden is expected to give to a joint session of Congress.

Financial fallout from the Texas deep freeze

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Texas has thawed out after an Arctic freeze last month threw the state into a power crisis. But the financial turmoil from power grid shock is just starting to take shape.

Why it matters: In total, electricity companies are billions of dollars short on the post-storm payments they now owe to the state's grid operator. There's no clear path for how they will pay — something being watched closely across the country as extreme weather events become more common.