We Need To Prepare For The Next Pandemic
What if the next virus is as contagious as COVID and deadly as Ebola?
Yes, it seems like we are finally getting a handle on the pandemic. Even though there are some warning signs, there are also signs of hope: millions of people are being vaccinated each and every day. Cases, while indeed having plateaued, are much less than they were a few months ago. Hospitalizations and deaths are also down. There seems to be light at the end of this horribly long and horribly dark tunnel that is not a train.
That said, it is imperative that we prepare now for the next pandemic. There is no doubt that there will be another pandemic. It seems to be an inevitable feature of the human condition.
And so, we need to be prepared. What if this next virus is as contagious as SARS CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and has a mortality of 50% (like that of Ebola) and not 0.5%? What if it can kill many more children, like smallpox, than COVID? We need to be prepared, and this preparation needs to start now.
I still remember the insanity of waiting in an extremely long line at Costco to get ONE package of toilet paper. Hand sanitizer, disinfectants, and masks were no where to be found. There was great fear that food was going to run out.
The same is true with PPE. While I was blessed to have plenty of supplies at my hospital, there were many, many, many other hospitals that did not have the same luxury. If we have a much more contagious and deadly virus, reusing an N95 day after day after day will simply not cut it. We need to strengthen and solidify supply chains so that we don’t have shortages that will cause chaos.
As Mike Bowen, co-owner of Prestige Ameritech, manufacturer of N-95 masks, told the New York Times:
“The government needs to treat foreign-made personal protective equipment as a national security problem. This was a fairly mild virus. Imagine if the death rate had been 20 percent, and China and Mexico had cut off their P.P.E. supplies. The entire mask supply would have collapsed.”
He is absolutely right.
Furthermore, how is the National Strategic Stockpile doing? Are there enough ventilators? Oxygen tanks? IVs? Tubing? Syringes? Gauze? If we can’t take care of patients because we don’t have adequate supplies, then the bloodbath will be far, far worse and more horrific.
No More False Choices
If you had to choose between risking a deadly illness and starving because you can’t provide for your family, which would you choose? Is this even a humane choice?
For too many Americans, there was no “remote work” option. They were faced with this false choice and had to choose to continue working, risking their lives in the process. And, indeed, many essential workers fell ill and succumbed to this horrific disease.
No more false choices.
If — in a future, more deadly pandemic — a shutdown of all activity is needed, then the government needs to support those who it has asked to stay home for the safety of all. And that support needs to come immediately, without wrangling or politicking by politicians. Otherwise, we will see again what we saw during this pandemic: long lines of Americans waiting for food assistance. This is unacceptable in America.
Moreover, in a worse pandemic, not only would the economy greatly suffer — like it did with this pandemic — but there can be full on financial collapse. If there is no support for those who are forced to stay home, I can definitely see a run on the banks, for example, so people can simply survive. If we thought this recession was bad, the next pandemic can bring one that could be much, much worse.
We Really Need To Stick To The Scientific Evidence
It is understandable: when you have a patient dying from a novel disease for which you have no known effective treatments, you are tempted to try anything you have heard may be of benefit. The temptation can be very great indeed. We need to resist that temptation with all our might.
Treatments that “made sense” during the height of the pandemic did not bear out when put to the scrutiny of a randomized, controlled trial. We need to wait for those randomized, controlled trials. It may be hard to do so, but the pandemic has shown us that good, robust trials can be set up in a short period of time and can give us good evidence with which to treat our patients.
In addition, if clinical trials can be funded by other than pharmaceutical companies — whose conflict of interest simply cannot be eliminated — that would be even better. Perhaps set up a similar project to COVAX, where multiple nations contribute to a pool of resources to fund clinical trials.
Crack Down Hard On Misinformation
With the ubiquitous nature of social media, the amount of misinformation with regards to the pandemic and the virus and its treatments was rampant. No, COVID-19 is not “just the flu.” No, the vaccines are not an attempt by the Gates Foundation to control us remotely. No, injecting ourselves with bleach will not cure COVID.
We cannot muzzle the scientists who are experts at pandemics and infectious diseases. Never again can we let the CDC be hijacked by political hacks with alternative facts and agendas. We need to really watch and crack down hard on misinformation. It can literally be a matter of life and death.
Learn The Lessons From Our Current Vaccine Rollout
Even though we are one of the best countries in the world in terms of vaccination of its population, our vaccine rollout has nevertheless been less than ideal. In so many places, especially early on, it was a nightmare to try and find a vaccine.
We need to do better than this.
Clearly, the vaccination of an entire population is a huge logistical undertaking. We need to learn the lessons of this rollout so we can do a better job next time, especially if the next virus is horrifically more deadly.
The New York times has a great article where they asked experts and activists on how we can do better for the next pandemic, and it is definitely worth a read. I hope our leaders, politicians, and policymakers are reading and studying this article. I also hope and pray that these very same leaders are heeding the lessons learned for this pandemic, so we can be much better prepared for the next.