US president Joe Biden highlighted a health-focused science agenda in his State of the Union speech March 1.
On the COVID-19 pandemic, Biden said “scientists are working hard” to get a vaccine for the 0–5 age group. He announced a new “test to treat” initiative that would allow people who test positive at a pharmacy to receive antiviral drugs immediately. And he acknowledged the likelihood of new SARS-CoV-2 variants, highlighting the ability “to develop new vaccines within 100 days instead of maybe months or years.”
Biden also revealed a four-point “unity agenda.” The first item would address the opioid epidemic through prevention and treatment, and by stopping illicit drug trafficking. The second homes in on mental health, particularly for children.
The third prong is greater support for military veterans. As part of that, Biden emphasized a need to understand the effect on troops of breathing smoke from the pits used to burn waste—“medical and hazardous material, jet fuel, and so much more”—at military bases. Many troops exposed to such smoke are “never the same” when they return home, Biden said. He noted that the Department of Veterans Affairs “is pioneering new ways of linking toxic exposures to disease,” although he did not mention providing additional funding for those efforts.
The fourth part of the unity agenda is to “end cancer as we know it,” Biden said, in part by reinvigorating his Cancer Moonshot program, as the White House announced last month. Some of that effort centers on preventing cancer by cleaning up polluted sites to reduce chemical exposure. In his speech, Biden also pointed to his proposed Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, or ARPA-H, “to drive breakthroughs in cancer, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes, and more.” Yet funding for these programs remains uncertain; Congress has yet to pass a budget for fiscal 2022.
The president’s son Beau Biden, who was a soldier, died of brain cancer in 2015.
Overall, Biden pushed for more investment in science. “We used to invest 2% of our GDP in research and development. We don’t now,” Biden said while asking Congress to pass the US Innovation and Competition Act (S.1260).