Experts reflect on COVID-19, share lessons for future pandemics

July 19, 2023—The U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic was full of missteps—ones that experts say can inform preparations for future global health emergencies.

In a July 11 video feature, Knowable Magazine compiled interviews with public health experts conducted throughout the pandemic, in which the experts discussed topics such as the inevitability of future disease outbreaks, the need for the U.S. to learn from other countries’ public health efforts, and the need to balance individual liberty with a collective pandemic response.

Two experts from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health—Bill Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, and Pardis Sabeti, professor of immunology and infectious diseases—were among those whose comments were featured.

“Viruses expose and exploit the cracks in our society,” Sabeti said, citing racial injustice, mistrust in national leaders, and capitalism as some of the “forces [that] collectively [came] together to create a very toxic culture that we call outbreak culture.”

To mitigate “outbreak culture” in the future, Sabeti said, “commit to altruism and commit to cooperation and to bring your best self to every interaction. The more we fight amongst ourselves, the easier it is for the virus.”

Hanage discussed the damaging impact of misinformation and the need to bolster trust between national leaders and the public. In the U.S. in particular, he said, “information became suddenly political. Whether or not you thought the virus was a problem became a badge of identity rather than a matter of scientific fact.”

He added, “It’s kind of Pandemic 101, that you maintain confidence from the public, and trust in the information that they’re getting, and you have to earn that trust. It’s not something which you can take for granted.”

Watch the Knowable Magazine video: Preparing for future pandemics: Learning from Covid-19