How Do We Prepare for the Next Pandemic?
The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the mutual vulnerability to and the lack of preparedness for the spread of catastrophic infectious diseases in Europe and the United States. Millions of people were infected, hundreds of thousands of people died and our daily lives were upended because of strict stay-at-home orders. The response in Europe and the United States to the pandemic often was slow, inadequate, and nationalistic; Americans and Europeans have often worked at cross purposes, lacking any coordinated action. While the worst of the pandemic seems to be past, scientists believe that future pandemics are inevitable and will occur more frequently thanks to the growing inter-connectedness of the world. The challenge facing governments on both sides of the Atlantic, and around the world, is how better to prepare for them. Questions that this discussion will address include:
What kind of international structures/institutions need to be strengthened to ensure a more coordinated response both among the transatlantic community and globally? By the time COVID-19 was detected in Europe and the United States, it had been spreading unseen for weeks and epidemics were inevitable. The world needs a far better system to detect the spread of novel infectious agents and track their evolution. How can that be accomplished? How can responses to future pandemics and medical emergencies be structured in a more equitable way, ensuring that vulnerable communities are not left out? The United States and the United Kingdom have fared better than Europe in the latter stages of the pandemic in part because of better domestic vaccine manufacturing capacity and earlier deals with manufacturers. Indeed, the EU and the United Kingdom have been engaged in a quiet war over vaccine supplies. Drug and vaccine manufacturing capacity has for decades become more and more centralized into a few giant operations. Should that trend be reversed, and should every country invest in vaccine manufacturing capacity? An impediment to the success of smaller countries has been that COVID-19 vaccines have been discovered in only a handful of countries. The discoverers have jealously guarded their intellectual property. Provisions in the World Trade Organization allow countries to seize intellectual property during health emergencies. Why haven’t those provisions been implemented for the coronavirus, and should the world do a better job sharing discoveries in these kind of emergencies?