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). 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.

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.

  1.  Restore institutional trust: Public health always depends on public trust. Political leaders in a crisis must model the behavior they want to see in the public. Such leaders must also provide clear, fact-based information, even if— especially if—it is politically inconvenient.
  2.  Fortify early alert frameworks: Countries with crowded urban environments such as Taiwan or Singapore have fared comparatively well in terms of COVID-19 infections. These examples demonstrate that building a system for defense against infectious diseases, especially novel or emerging threats, requires an outermost perimeter that serves as a veritable early alert system.
  3. Threat-based resource allocation: One of the risk management conundrums in pandemic preparedness and biodefense is that the risk feels intangible. Pre-investing in infectious disease prevention and meaningful ways of breaking the chain of transmission are clearly a better investment than ex-post efforts to deal with a novel zoonotic health crisis.
  4.  Science in the war room: The void of reliable real-time information has been a global challenge during the COVID-19 crisis. Sadly, even in the face of a global threat, the tendency of economic nationalism and retrenchment stands in the way of global collaboration and solidarity in the race for a vaccine and its global availability. In fighting the spread of COVID-19, data and science should be the most critical elements of decision making.
  5. Privacy-preserving technology: The general lack of reliable, real-time threat information sharing, contact tracing, and community prevalence data during this pandemic has meant people and public health authorities have either been flying blind in the fight against COVID-19 or are relying on backward-looking reporting of confirmed cases. The advent of privacy preserving technology in the form of portable e-health passports can provide individual protections and community health assurances as we overcome our trepidations to return to normal.
  6. Mass casualty surge capacity: Sending healthcare professionals to fight COVID-19 with ill-fitting, reused, or patchwork PPE, is tantamount to sending soldiers into battle without body armor or weapons. In keeping with this combat analogy, the nation’s healthcare and emergency response system must also draw lessons learned from the COVID-19 response and formulate tabletop exercises and preparedness drills that treat mass casualty events, communicable diseases, and bio-threats as ever present.
  7. Public-private accelerator: With national debt projected to be greater than the size of the U.S. economy, the down payment on COVID-19 response and recovery will require generational commitments to ensure national resilience in the face of future threats. If this type of innovation accelerator were not a zero-sum proposition for each country but rather a globally shared and pre-funded capability immune from corporate intellectual property restrictions and national interests, the potential for broad societal benefits would be unprecedented.

Read the full article about pandemic preparedness by Dante Disparte at Brookings.