Fourth Annual White Paper Gives Recommendations For Pandemic Preparedness, Response
Technology offers opportunities to expand surveillance and detect outbreaks earlier to prevent them from becoming epidemics, but also creates challenges that officials should be aware of, co-authors of the Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs’ latest pandemic policy white paper said during a recent virtual discussion.
The Scowcroft Institute at Texas A&M University’s Bush School of Government and Public Service produces a white paper each year resulting from its annual summit that brings together health experts, members of the government and the private sector to discuss challenges and opportunities in pandemic preparedness and response. This year’s white paper was written prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but was revised as the disease caused by the novel coronavirus quickly spread around the world.
The recommendations in the fourth annual white paper have added importance due to the current pandemic, the experts said last week during a Zoom discussion for the virtual rollout of the document, titled “Pandemic Preparedness And Response In The Age of Technology.”
“Effective pandemic preparedness and response depend on the quality as well as the speed of obtaining relevant information, especially from remote and hard to reach areas of the world, where most known and unknown disease outbreaks occur and originate,” writes Dr. Oyewale Tomori, Scowcroft Institute senior fellow, in the preface.
Among the authors’ recommendations is the creation of an integrated surveillance system for infectious diseases to allow for a higher likelihood of containment.
Using mobile, web-based and GISA data could result in faster recognition of an outbreak and lessen the chances of a pandemic. Scowcroft Institute Director Andrew Natsios said similar systems have been used successfully to predict famines in Africa.
Additionally, researchers at Harvard University observed the number of cars and bicycles in parking lots of hospitals and health clinics in Wuhan, China using satellite imagery, Natsios said, and saw a dramatic increase months before the rest of the world knew about the novel coronavirus. Remote sensing could also be used to see whether mass graves are being dug, or if crematoriums are working overtime, he said.
“We need an international system through U.N. agencies, but we also need one at the national level,” Natsios said. “If the international institutions fail sometimes, then do we have an alternative at our level?”
Developing efficient vaccine dissemination plans is another major recommendation. Assuming one of the many vaccine candidates in development is successful, the next challenge will be making sure there are enough syringes, needles and health professionals to administer it.
Leaders will also need to determine who will be the first to be vaccinated.
“We’re not going to flip the switch one day and have billions of doses of vaccines,” said Dr. Gerald Parker, director of the Bush School’s Pandemic and Biosecurity Policy Program. “It’s going to come in kind of a measured way, so it’ll be a scarce medical resource at first, assuming we have some successful vaccines. So we have to have policy discussions, and it has to be transparent with the American public about who is going to get the first doses of vaccines.”
The United States and other high-income countries will also need to consider how to make the vaccine accessible around the world, he said.
Other topics covered in the document include bioterrorism, research, the bioeconomy and research facilities. To read the white paper, visit the Scowcroft Infectious Disease Information Platform.
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