By: Ken Thorpe
With COVID-19 vaccines rolling out in all 50 states, there’s reason for optimism. In addition to that light at the end of the tunnel, it is also important to keep a broader perspective on how we can better anticipate and prepare for health threats in the future. To fully prepare for the next pandemic, we must shore up our existing health care services and access, enhance that infrastructure and capacity, innovate on emerging threats, and take action to ensure health equity and avoid disparate impact.
In short, we need a National Pandemic Preparedness Strategy (NPPS) now to address health threats in the future.
With this imperative in mind, the Partnership to Fight Infectious Disease has developed a Statement of Principles to guide development of a national preparedness strategy.
COVID-19 has shown us that effective and efficient monitoring, reporting, and knowledge sharing are essential tools to contain and defeat an emerging public health threat. Part of this strategy includes addressing disparities that have led to disproportionate, severe impacts on health and economic fallout. Further, an NPPS must account for the digital divide and its impact on remote learning, teleworking, and online social connectivity. We absolutely must better address and prepare for the mental and behavioral health repercussions and the new societal realities that have been created during the pandemic.
Another consequence of COVID-19 are the results of too many Americans having felt compelled to cancel or delay health care procedures, particularly among communities of color and those with underlying conditions who have had to shift so many priorities. From just March to June of 2020, cancer screening rates fell considerably according to a study by the Dan-Farber/ Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center. Unfortunately, the impact of deferred care in 2020 could be felt for years to come. Steps taken now to ensure vulnerable populations are able to access preventative and primary care, will absolutely minimize the ripple effects of this pandemic and help prepare for potential threats ahead.
Before we can fully focus on future health threats, the Partnership remains focused on defeating COVID-19. We are committed to educating Americans on the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines through a public information campaign, including national conversations with front line doctors and health experts like this discussion.
The value of future pandemic preparedness has become exceedingly clear over the past year. As we come together in recovery from this pandemic, we must also take this opportunity to set our sights broadly on what’s needed to head off future events and fortify not just our health care system, but our communities at large.