The Future Course of Pandemics

Illustrated by Neha Adari

Will we ever learn from our past? Once news broke of COVID-19 and of it being classified as a pandemic, analysts have been reaching back, comparing previous coronavirus pandemics and the lessons that should have come with them. In our current standpoint, the outcome of how this pandemic will play out still remains unclear. Scientists are already preparing for how we should start handling matters of our “new normal.” The question remains, will we?

In order to understand the course of this pandemic, global health experts have been referring to previous coronavirus outbreaks such as the 2002-2003 global SARS (SARS-CoV) outbreak and the Mers-CoV epidemic in 2012 [2]. The suppression of these epidemics were found to be due to two factors: containment and transparency [6]. During the SARS epidemic, a measure that played a major role in diminishing the pandemic was global alert and containment through coordinated efforts. This measure played in effect with other factors allowing for the pandemic to be short lived. Containment was enforced through strict contact tracing and 10 day quarantine guidelines. There was an emphasis on interrupting future transmission of the virus, which caused patient isolation, negative pressure rooms, and barrier precautions. With such rapid transmission and unpredictability during times when “the public is at risk of a real or potential health threat, treatment options may be limited,” transparency globally of public information allowed for the direct containment and thus a shortened span or the outbreak. These two factors have been ignored during the COVID-19 pandemic but should be noted for the foreseeable future. 

By the time of the SARS-CoV epidemic in 2002, more information has been discovered of the culture of the virus and the traditional utilization of technology and practices like electron microscopy, pan viral microarray technology, genome sequencing and serology. With the limited knowledge known about these viruses, there is an advantage in how we can now study these viruses in preparation for the future.

The difference between the handling in both the SARS and MERS outbreak and the COVID-19 pandemic lies in the strict enforcement of safety guidelines worldwide and how that information has been portrayed to the public [8]. This has caused countries that have overcome the pandemic to be applauded for their efforts and set as role models [1]. Although the guidelines that other countries have followed can be looked up to, there is no specific response that will result in countries completely overcoming the pandemic. What is causing some countries not to be as successful in combatting the pandemic has been due to the influx of misinformation [7] As a 

result, this increased influx of misinformation creates a vortex of fear and anxiety. For the future, limiting the transmission of inaccurate information is vital in conveying truth to the public [9].

David Heymann, Executive Director for Communicable Diseases at the World Health Organization, examined these outbreaks from the past three decades and has summed up his reflection, highlighting increased struggles that are yet to be resolved: “interplay between infectious disease and global trade, the need for equitable access to health-care resources and the balance of individual rights and public welfare.” [3

The truth experts are preparing for is that these outbreaks are not going anywhere. Dr. Heymann also noted four key ethical issues of the reemergence of these zoonotic diseases: the role of healthcare workers on the frontline, consequences from issues between the government over infectious disease, commerce and public health measures [3].

According to Dr. Micheal Gillette, senior group leader in the Proteomics Platform at Broad, physician in pulmonary and critical care medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, one of the biggest takeaways that the pandemic has highlighted are “fundamental inequities in the healthcare system and social structure” [4]. Hospitals have been reaching their capacity and necessary equipment such as N-95 masks and ventilators are in such shortage it brings up questions of who will receive care. Along with this, many healthcare workers are on the frontline as well as other doctors specialized in other specialties having to fill in spots where there is a lack of professionals. 

From experience, Dr. Pradeep Natarajan, associate member of the Program in Medical and Population genetics at Broad, director of preventive cardiology at MGH, clinical cardiologist at MGH Cardiovascular Disease Prevention Center and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, states that the knowledge gap that physicians were facing during this public health emergency required a lot of dependance on clinical intuition, rapidly gained experience and the immediate application to patients with COVID-19 [6]. These challenges, as said by Dr. Natarajan, “have tested the resilience and adaptability of our local health systems to deal with this once-in-a-century pandemic.” As expected by doctors, in order for better handling of these future pandemics, institutions that are having to deal with these cases upfront will need to have a supportive structure, increased resources and a balanced system to continue out their duties without having so much uncertainty [4].

Throughout history, we have seen how it has repeated itself. Similarly, pandemics are only expected to increase in occurrence. While the COVID-19 pandemic is still continuing, it is important to study and prevent these mistakes from occurring again and to better navigate and mitigate the rapid spread of these viruses in the future. Though there is uncertainty during times of global health emergencies, we should learn from our systems’ flaws in order to be better prepared for the future.

Edited by: Haley Pak
Illustrated by: Neha Adari




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