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Tufts University School of Medicine

Four Things Experts Have Learned From the Pandemic

New Yorkers wait outside an urgent care office for Covid-19 testing. Photo: Shutterstock
Monday, December 7, 2020 - 7:00pm

The battle is far from over, but public health professionals have already learned some valuable lessons about fighting a pandemic. Tufts researchers, science journalists, and health experts from around the globe shared some of what they have learned at the virtual Tufts 2020 COVID-19 Research Symposium in November. Here are some takeaways:

Fighting a pandemic takes a coordinated—preferably global—response.

Despite missteps countries have made in battling the coronavirus, there is no denying the “unprecedented kind of scientific collaboration, the kind of technological breakthroughs” that have emerged during the pandemic, said keynote speaker Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist of the World Health Organization.

That’s one reason, she said, President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the WHO was a step in the wrong direction. She said the $400 million that the United States contributes annually to the WHO could probably be made up from other sources. But the greater loss would be the technical links that have long served the relationship in both directions. Take the example of influenza vaccines, she said.

“Every year, the WHO convenes experts—and the CDC is part of that network—who formulate the vaccine strains for the following year. And imagine if you were not part of that global system and you had to do this on your own,” she said. “It would be very hard to do.”

“In this age that we live in, where everything is globalized, where pandemics can start in any country in the world, you need a global system to tackle those,” she said.

Keynote speaker Eric Rubin, M90, GBS90, editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, said that one lesson already learned from the pandemic is that the scientific community needs more coordination, especially when it comes to designing clinical trials for treatments.

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