'There will be a next time': Expert warns the United States is unprepared for future pandemics

'There will be a next time': Expert warns the United States is unprepared for future pandemics
Nebraska Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Tyler Fredrickson during the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020, Wikimedia Commons

An infectious disease expert warned on Friday that the United States is woefully unprepared for the next pandemic.

In an interview with The Hill at its “America’s Report Card” event, Dr. Céline Gounder, a Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine and Infectious Diseases at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine, explained that American infrastructure is nowhere near ready for the spread of a lethal pathogen, including variants of COVID-19 that have yet to emerge.

“We get exhausted, we become short-sighted, we don’t build the necessary pandemic preparedness to protect ourselves and insulate and shield ourselves better for next time and there will be a next time,” said Gounder.

According to Gounder, the US needs to ramp up its efforts to monitor outbreaks of new viruses and bacteria as well as increase its promotion of vaccines if it hopes to stave off the worst impacts of a future crisis.

“We tend to be fairly, frankly provisional in how we think about things here, but if you look at every single variant to date those have emerged elsewhere around the world where there’s been high levels of transmission and low levels of vaccination,” Gounder said.

“Depending on whether you would have a game-changing variant or slower mutation you're looking at probably the emergence of something that is truly game-changing like Delta or Omicron somewhere between every two to 10 years,” the professor added.

With the coronavirus nearing endemic status, Gounder continued, “the focus moving forward will really be on cases, number of cases, how quickly they may be increasing in an area, hospitalizations, but also importantly hospitalization capacity.”

She cautioned, however, that the easing of mask mandates may provide a false sense of security, even as infections, hospitalizations, and death wane.

“I just fear that people are going to commit the same mistakes as before and really just move on without taking those steps to build up our public health systems,” Gounder said.

Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates, who has donated billions of dollars to fund organizations that track and combat infectious diseases, recently issued a similar warning.

“We’ll have another pandemic. It will be a different pathogen next time,” Gates told CNBC last week, stressing that investment in vaccines is the best weapon human beings have to thwart another disaster.

“Next time we should try and make it, instead of two years, we should make it more like six months,” he said. “The cost of being ready for the next pandemic is not that large. It’s not like climate change. If we’re rational, yes, the next time we’ll catch it early.”

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