The U.S. was largely unprepared when the first wave of COVID-19 hit in March 2020,  prompting widespread disappointment with — and alarm over — the country’s public health infrastructure.

To combat the perception that the country remains unprepared for future health emergencies, the Biden administration is creating a new agency within the Department of Health and Human Services devoted exclusively to pandemic responses.

The agency will be created from the existing office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, now known as the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR). It will operate on a similar standing with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration.

The CDC and FDA absorbed their share of blows — some justified, some not — during the pandemic’s most trying months.

The CDC’s flip-flop on masking guidance, for example, drew widespread criticism from public health experts. The agency has since acknowledged its communications issues and has launched an internal review to examine its systems and processes.

The FDA, meanwhile, was deluged by reports of pandemic-related staff burnout and widely criticized over its controversial approval of Biogen Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm.

The pandemic cast a harsh light on the overarching public health infrastructure in the U.S., with COVID case-tracking hobbled by lagging data reports and testing thrown into chaos due to a lack of at-home kits during the Omicron surge. Experts continue to note that a lack of funding hamstrings the nation’s ability to better prepare for future crises.

The ASPR will be tasked with designing strategies to manage future health emergencies, though it has yet to reveal any specific plans. The agency will manage the Strategic National Stockpile, which is responsible for acquiring vaccines and personal protective equipment.

“This change allows ASPR to mobilize a coordinated national response more quickly and stably during future disasters and emergencies while equipping us with greater hiring and contracting capabilities,” Dawn O’Connell, HHS assistant secretary for preparedness and response, wrote in an email to staffers this week, according to the Washington Post.

The move comes as COVID-19 cases are rising again in the U.S., signaling an indefinite continuation of the pandemic. Even if large swaths of the country are vaccinated and most states have shed pandemic restrictions, public health experts continue to warn of the risk of new variants and surges.