The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the devastating impact infectious diseases can have on human health, social orders, economies, and political systems. Throughout human history, pandemics have remade governments and economies. The extensive reach of infectious disease, combined with global vulnerability to rapidly spread due to globalization, makes it vital that the U.S. learns lessons from COVID-19 and previous pandemics in order to reduce the damage that can be caused by future outbreaks.
For the past five years the Scowcroft Institute for International Affairs at the Bush School of Government and Public Service has been hosting an Annual Pandemic Policy Summit. The goal of these summits is to address the most pressing issues facing scientists, policymakers, and the overall pandemic preparedness and response enterprise. This year, the summit was held virtually in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and while the pandemic was discussed at length, we set a goal to look beyond the current crisis and address the next pandemic coming down the road.
The COVID-19 pandemic was the first major, truly global pandemic since the Great Influenza pandemic of 1918 and, as such, drew numerous comparisons to the infamous pandemic a century ago. These comparisons also prompted people to speculate whether we had learned anything about pandemic response since 1918. The short answer to this is “yes.” We have made tremendous scientific advancements and improved communication and technology.
On December 31, 2019 China reported a cluster of pneumonia-like cases to the WHO Country Office. Though December 1, 2019 marks the earliest known date of COVID-19 symptom emergence, research by scientists at Harvard argues that the virus could have been circulating as early as August (Nsoesie et al., 2020). By early January, the confirmed cases of the disease appeared in countries around the world.
Effective pandemic preparedness and response depend on the quality as well as the speed of obtaining relevant information, especially from remote and hard to reach areas of the world, where most known and unknown disease outbreaks occur and originate. Equally important is the local/national ability to collate, analyze, and interpret the information in a form valuable for taking appropriate preventive action and response.
As part of the Tier One Program, a “Science & Policy” interdisciplinary class on pandemics took place at the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University. The class was comprised of graduate students from five different departments across campus. The students produced this White Paper as part of their research on combating antimicrobial resistance. Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) is the process by which microorganisms, such as viruses and bacteria, develop capabilities that render antimicrobial medicines ineffective in treating infections.
Community Resilience, Centralized Leadership & Multi-Sectoral Collaboration in Pandemic Preparedness
Since the end of the 1918 pandemic the world has faced three more influenza pandemics, the most recent being the 2009 H1N1 pandemic which infected 2 billion people in 6 months. Additionally, we face an ever increasing frequency of emerging infectious diseases with pandemic potential. These diseases could kill millions, cost billions, and have other significant economic, social, national security, and political consequences. If the United States and international system do not make progress towards closing the gaps addressed in this and previous Scowcroft white papers, countries will remain vulnerable to a devastating outbreak.
On Oct. 14, 2018, the Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs conducted a pandemic simulation designed to give students from across Texas A&M University a high-impact, interdisciplinary learning experience. All authors of the paper are student participants of an exercise where they responded to a simulated H7N9 outbreak, and this is a report of their findings.
In this report, the Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs at The Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University outlines eight priority areas and their accompanying recommended action items to address vulnerabilities in the current pandemic preparedness and response system.
The threat posed by pandemics grows alongside increased globalization and technological innovation. Distant cultures can now be connected in a day’s time, and international trade links global health and economic prosperity. In this report, the Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs at The Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University details nine priority areas and accompanying action items that will help to address current pandemic response problems.