The next epidemic or pandemic

The mobilisation of scientific resources by governments, regulators and pharmaceutical companies delivered safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines to the world in little under a year, which was an unprecedented public health triumph in the face of a once-in-a-century pandemic. This success, however, also demonstrates a number of major risks going forward into future public health crises.

The pandemic exposed serious fault lines within societies, particularly the Western democracies, as right-wing populism birthed a very vocal politics of defiance against public health measures, especially in the United States (US) and Australia. This level of defiance is highly correlated with political partisanship and misinformation, which have exploded in the past two years worldwide.

International cooperation on infectious diseases also suffered, despite global public-private partnerships to develop vaccines. China’s refusal to examine the origins of the virus have greatly dented its reputation, while the political partisanship and high loss of life in Western democracies, particularly the United States (US) and United Kingdom (UK), has tarnished these countries’ images. Uncoordinated border closures, flight suspensions and shortages of essential goods have exposed the vulnerabilities of globalisation.

Effectively managing a future pandemic will require rebuilding trust and cooperation between countries as well as between public health officials and the general public.

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