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Preparing for the next pandemic: Early lessons from COVID-19

Topic: Preparing for the next pandemic: Early lessons from COVID-19

COVID-19 has caused more than 109 million confirmed cases, claimed more than 2.4 million lives, and even brought prosperous nations and well-run healthcare systems to their knees. Few countries have been spared. Even in the economically powerful U.S., the tension between maintaining social freedoms and engaging in efforts of collective defense against the virus has led to politicization (e.g., mask wearing, social distancing and vaccine refusal). Sadly, the U.S. is bearing the heaviest human toll from the virus with 25.4 percent of total confirmed cases and more than 486,000 deaths. Fortunately, even in our darkest hour in the fight against COVID-19 – amid a predictable winter surge – there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Pfizer and Moderna have each produced vaccine breakthroughs with 90 percent or greater efficacy, while Johnson & Johnson seeks approval of a single dose vaccine that may be available over the summer. With over 70 million doses delivered across the country, close to 53 million doses have been administered of which 14 million people have received their second shot, breaking the logistical and supply chain log jam that plagued early vaccine efforts.

Even though pandemic preparedness and biodefense have had ardent and clarion supporters, namely Bill Gates and the first Secretary for Homeland Security Tom Ridge, COVID-19 proved how ill-prepared we were to combat a 100-year pandemic. It is not too early to draw lessons from this lack of preparation and global coordination. Not only will doing so aid current recovery efforts, but it would also increase readiness for the next communicable or vector-borne disease to threaten the world. Below are seven areas of opportunity to learn from our COVID-19 response and improve readiness for future pandemic shocks.


Public health always depends on public trust. This is especially true during a global health emergency in which the first line of defense is public adherence to health directives, including to quarantine, observe social distancing, wear masks, and, eventually, receive a vaccine. It is notable that during the 21st century’s pandemics, the most effective remedies borrow from a playbook that is hundreds of years old. Unfortunately, the fight against COVID-19, like past outbreaks and pandemics, has suffered from various perverse, insidious, and conspiratorial setbacks, including the specter of cyber-attacks attempting to thwart the lucrative and geopolitically prized race for a cure or vaccine. Indeed, cyber ne’er-do-wells are also targeting cold supply chains as the mobilization of vaccines gets underway.

Topic Discussed: Preparing for the next pandemic: Early lessons from COVID-19

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