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Lessons from the New Normal That Might Protect Us from the Next Pandemic

Gavin Yamey provides recommendations for moving forward on the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic

Gavin Yamey dicusses COVID and fighting infectious diseases

Well before the COVID-19 pandemic began, Dr. Gavin Yamey and colleagues were studying ways to prepare for and quickly shut down potential global outbreaks. In a public lecture delivered Friday via YouTube, Yamey outlined the fundamental elements of pandemic preparedness and response, evaluated the comparative successes and failures of different countries’ responses, and shared insights on what’s needed to bring the pandemic under control. 

Regarding the financial cost of preparation, Yamey noted that a national and global pandemic preparedness system could have been instituted for roughly $10 billion annually. Instead, without such a system in place in the U.S. and some other countries, COVID-19 has already led to about 400,000 deaths worldwide and a predicted $2 trillion in economic losses in 2020.

Yamey emphasized the need for solidarity at the individual and community levels to keep the pandemic at bay while waiting for a vaccine to become available.

“In a pandemic, the decisions we make as individuals affect other people, they have consequences to the community,” he said. “You may think it’s OK not to wear a mask, you’re willing to take the risk yourself, but you’re putting others at risk -- including vulnerable people -- if you don’t wear a mask.”

He also called for community solidarity via a new type of social movement to push local, state and federal leaders to protect and support vulnerable populations through free testing, universal health coverage and sick pay, support for those who do become sick and vaccine access once one becomes available. 

Yamey closed on a hopeful note about what we can learn from the COVID-19 pandemic to be better prepared for future outbreaks, pointing out that it was following the 2015 MERS outbreak that South Korea put in place a national pandemic response system that formed the basis of its swift and effective response to COVID-19. 

“We need a global public good system in place, to start to get serious about investing in research and development, in global pandemic preparedness, in stockpiling vaccines and personal protective equipment, and a serious effort around international collective action,” he said. “If anything can come of the current global catastrophe, that kind of international collective action I hope is what we’ll see next.”


Meet the expert:

Dr. Gavin Yamey is the director of the Center for Policy Impact in Global Health based in the Duke Global Health Institute. DGHI. The Center is an innovative policy lab that addresses critical challenges in financing and delivering global health. He trained in clinical medicine at Oxford University and University College London, medical journalism and editing at the BMJ and public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. 

Read more news about Duke experts and the coronavirus pandemic here.