Episode 74: Beyond COVID-19: Preparing for the Next Health Crisis


Episode Summary:

In this episode, we delve into the inevitability of another pandemic and question our preparedness for when it strikes. We’re joined by the Director of the Office of Pandemic Preparedness and Response Policy, who sheds light on the measures being taken to enhance our resilience and readiness for future pandemics. Learn about the strategies and actions implemented to ensure a robust defense against upcoming global health challenges.


Major General (ret) Paul Friedrichs, MD, FACS, is the Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of the Office of Pandemic Preparedness and Response Policy (OPPR), and the Senior Director for Global Health Security and Biodefense at the National Security Council (NSC). He is also the Inaugural Director of OPPR and serves as the Principal Advisor on Pandemic Preparedness and Response.

With a distinguished career, Friedrichs formerly held the position of Joint Staff Surgeon and was the medical advisor to the Department of Defense (DoD) COVID-19 Task Force. His work spans across collaboration with a wide range of government partners at the federal, state, tribal, local, and territorial levels, as well as engagement with industry and academic sectors. He has been an active participant in various professional medical societies.

Friedrichs has managed the DoD’s global patient evacuation system, which supports global medical care and numerous interagency domestic and global disaster responses. He spearheaded the DoD Task Force that devised plans for implementing high reliability medical principles across the DoD and initiated the Air Force’s first medical analytics capabilities.

Over his 37-year career, Friedrichs has led military hospitals and regional and global healthcare systems. He has a strong publication record in the medical field and has been dedicated to enhancing healthcare delivery and preparedness. As the U.S. representative to the NATO Committee of Military Medical Chiefs, he collaborated closely with allies and partners during the pandemic and in developing medical support for the Ukrainian military.

Friedrichs is a board-certified physician with a significant record of caring for patients in combat situations and managing a broad range of domestic and global public health threats. His career in public service began with his commission through the Reserve Officer Training Corps in 1986, culminating in his promotion to Major General in 2023.

During This Episode, We Discuss:

Various key topics surrounding the Office of Pandemic Preparedness and Response Policy:

  • Overview and Goals: We begin with an introduction to the Office of Pandemic Preparedness and Response Policy, discussing its primary objectives and the critical role it plays in national health security.
  • Operational Functionality: Explore how the office operates, including its strategies for effective function and coordination with various stakeholders such as state health agencies, health delivery systems, medication and personal protective equipment manufacturers, as well as research and testing facilities.
  • Collaboration with Public Health Systems: The significance of a robust public health system is highlighted, examining how such systems are integrated into the office’s response policy to enhance preparedness and response efforts.
  • Deployment of Response Teams: Discussion on the office’s strategies to facilitate efficient national, regional, and local deployment of response teams to effectively manage health crises.
  • Public Communication: Insights into the approach for communicating with the public about the science of pandemic causation, diagnosis, containment, and treatment strategies, emphasizing the importance of keeping the messaging clear of political influence, drawing lessons from the COVID pandemic.
  • Air Force’s Health Recommendations: An overview of the recommendations and routines utilized by the Air Force to maintain the health and well-being of its personnel, providing a model for broader public health strategies.


“The first task for our office is to determine what we have learned over the last four years. The second task is to assess where we are in our readiness for future biological events, whether it’s a pandemic, an accidental event, or something else. The third thing is how we stay prepared for the future. Those are all things we are working on.”

“The frequency of biological events seems to be increasing.”

“As we say in the military, it’s less about the plans themselves, and more about the planning process. It involves getting people together, sitting down, and thinking about what could go wrong and how we prepare for it. So, when it does happen, we’ve thought through what we’re going to do. That’s a big part of what our office is working on: updating the plans that exist across the federal government, capturing what we think worked well over the last four years, so that we have the detailed ‘how-to’ already written down. This can save the weeks or months it took us to figure out how to do it during the last pandemic.”

“The opportunity to improve communication at every level is critical. How we shared information within the government, between governments, and with our respective populations is something we can always improve.”

“What we learned is that when we looked out for each other, we were very successful at minimizing the impact of the pandemic.”

Major General (ret) Paul Friedrichs

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Episode Transcript:

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