To the editor: We have heard the Trump administration claim, “We didn’t expect this pandemic.” Well, the administration may not have expected it, but those who have spent decades of their lives studying these diseases certainly expected it and were trying to alert officials to the potential for a serious pandemic.
I suggest the book “Spillover, Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic,” by David Quammen published in 2012. It outlines the long line of infections humans have had to deal with, dating back to the 1340s when the Black Death swept through Europe, killing about 30% of the population. The book focuses on recent transfers of pathogens passed to humans primarily from other animals. I’m including a partial list to make the point that this problem is neither new nor unexpected. Some of the more common diseases you may recognize are smallpox, measles, chickenpox, yellow fever, Lyme disease and rabies. A partial list of the many others includes HIV-1, SARS, polio, West Nile, Marburg, Hendra, Ebola, hepatitis-C, parrot fever, bubonic plague, dengue fever and NBO. The scientists call the next big one “NBO,” which perhaps is COVID-19. Scientists studying infectious diseases are always expecting the next one, but apparently no one in charge has been listening.
The U.S. spends many billions of dollars per year on military preparedness and, by comparison, a drop in the bucket for research and preparedness for infectious diseases. So how has that worked out? Compare the deaths from COVID-19 and the last war, and you will understand that perhaps too much of our “defense dollars” have been spent in the wrong place. However, the real crime here is ignoring our experts. We hopefully now understand what ignoring experts has cost us in lives lost, jobs lost and in a serious downturn in our economy. Our leaders must pay attention to experts in all fields, because it’s now clear that our lives and livelihoods depend on it.