Public health experts have been warning for years that a disease could spread around the world and kill a lot of people. After all, it was not the first time.
Around the world, steps were taken to spot the first signs of a dangerous bug that had never been seen before.
So, on December 31, 2019, China told the World Health Organization that Wuhan, the most populous city in central China, had a new pathogen going around. The next day, in that city of 12 million people, a wet market that sold live animals was closed because people thought it was where the virus that would later be called SARS-CoV-2 started.
Even after three years, there is still a chance that a deadly pathogen will spread around the world.
Now, experts are worried not only about a virus that could spread from animals to people, but also about research accidents and, what should be unthinkable, the chance that someone could release a highly contagious and deadly pathogen on purpose.
Lawrence Gostin, a professor of public health law at Georgetown University and a leading expert in global health, said that a pandemic is a much bigger threat to global security than conventional, nuclear, or chemical warfare.
“We’ve seen that happen with COVID, and COVID is by no means the biggest threat we face from a pandemic,” he said.
Even though more than 6.6 million people have died from it so far, other pandemics have been worse. For example, it is thought that 50 million people around the world died from the flu in 1918. In the 14th century, the Black Death killed between 30 and 60 per cent of all Europeans in just four years.
Experts in public health and national security are worried that the next pandemic will cost even more than this one. And the country should be ready.
Dr. Tom Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, said that the United States and other countries should be ready for anything that comes from biology, whether it comes from nature, engineering, or an accident in a lab.
The next disease outbreak could be worse.
Gostin thinks that nature is probably where the next pandemic will start. A very dangerous strain of bird or swine flu could change on its own and spread to humans. Long before COVID-19, this scenario kept health experts like Gostin up at night.
But there could be other reasons for it.
Gostin, who wrote the 2021 book “Global Health Security: A Blueprint for the Future,” said, “We face a wide range of threats, from lab leaks to bioterrorism to bioweapons to naturally occurring zoonotic spillovers.”
“Because of all of this, there’s a pretty good chance that we’ll have more threats like pandemics, and we need to take them seriously as a threat to our national security.”
The SARS-CoV-2 virus is the third coronavirus to be a major health threat, after the first SARS virus and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, both of which are much deadlier. If there was another coronavirus like SARS-CoV-2 or MERS, which kills 30% of people who get it, the economy, supply chains, and health care system, not to mention people’s lives, would be in danger.
And those are just the effects that are obvious.
Gostin said that COVID-19 is likely to have indirect effects for a long time. For example, people who didn’t get regular medical care may be diagnosed with more advanced and deadly cancers, and children who didn’t get their regular vaccines may get diseases that could have been prevented.
“If you think of a much worse pandemic, you can multiply that by 10 or 50 to get an idea of how badly the United States would be hurt economically and socially,” he said.
That means, he and others said, that the world needs to have better ways to fight these threats all the time, not just when there is a crisis.
At the moment, only about 5% of the country’s health care dollars are spent on public health and preventing the next crisis. Gostin said, “That’s a small mistake in the U.S. budget.”