March 10, 2021

Our Pandemic Anniversary Wish: Let’s Pandemic-Proof the Planet

Co-founders of Pandemic Action Network: Carolyn Reynolds, David Kyne, Eloise Todd, and Gabrielle Fitzgerald

One year ago, on March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) finally told the world what was already clear: that with 118,000 cases in over 110 countries and territories around the world, COVID-19 could be “characterized as a pandemic.” Of course, we had no idea at that time just how large and protracted this global crisis would become, with more than 117 million cases and over 2.6 million deaths worldwide and counting as of today.

It’s been a year of both horrible and amazing developments. Around the world, governments have scrambled, misinformation has flourished, advocates have rallied, scientists have mobilized, frontline healthcare, public health, essential workers have stepped up. There have been incredible stories of resilience, adaptation, and innovation by families, communities, and businesses. Yet crisis can be a great revealer, and this one has also exposed and preyed upon deep and longstanding global inequities, vulnerabilities, and broken systems.

The anniversary of this crisis should be a moment for all of us to reflect on what we have learned, and to commit to bold and urgent action.

Leaders have an historic opportunity to take actions now that will not only hasten the end of this pandemic, but will also begin to pandemic-proof the planet so that future generations never again experience the health, economic, and social devastation we have seen over the past year. 

The pandemic has affected every aspect of our lives and the solutions require leadership from all of us. We need the best and brightest not only working in science and health but also in finance, defense, technology, education, manufacturing, transport, and across every other sector of the global economy to join forces to solve this global challenge. And pandemic-proofing the planet demands that we tackle the dual threats of climate and health hand-in-hand.

We are calling on world leaders to seize this moment to commit to take action in four areas that will help pandemic-proof the planet and leave humanity healthier, safer, more resilient, and more prosperous.

Pandemic Action Network’s Pandemic-Proof Agenda

Speed up access and delivery of COVID-19 vaccines and other lifesaving tools to everyone, regardless of where they live. This starts with fully funding the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator and COVAX Facility. It also means countries which have secured more vaccine doses than they need should start donating vaccines to reach other nations in need, in parallel to their domestic vaccine rollout. Governments and industry also must join together to find the resources, and eliminate the bottlenecks, necessary to ramp up global manufacturing capacity, as part of a roadmap to get to at least 60-70% vaccine coverage in every country. With the evolving virus strain mutations, we are in a race against time to control this pandemic. But let’s also make sure these efforts do not come at the expense of other global health needs and goals.

Get serious on investing in pandemic preparedness. Donor nations, private foundations, and investors should come together to establish a sustainable global financing mechanism for pandemic preparedness, with an initial funding target of US$20 billion. Now is the time to fuel a global “pandemic-proof challenge” to ensure that every country has the plans, capacity, trained workforce, and functioning system it needs to effectively prevent, detect, and respond to outbreaks at their source before they spread and become deadly pandemics. This initiative should also incentivize countries to prioritize pandemics in their domestic budgets as a long-term security threat. Smart climate, biodiversity, and land-use policies must be a critical piece of those plans.

Bolster global research, development, and delivery of tools for emerging infectious disease threats. The COVID-19 crisis has shown that the world needs an at-the-ready capacity for timely delivery of the health technologies and supplies needed to combat both the known and unknown diseases likely to spark the next pandemic. A good start will be to support the US$3.5 billion five-year strategy of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to achieve its moonshot goal to have a new vaccine ready within 100 days when the next novel disease outbreak happens. And we must build a seamless global network of regional R&D, manufacturing, and supply hubs and streamline regulatory processes so that every nation can quickly get the tools when they need them.

Build a smarter global pandemic defense system. Defense starts with prevention, and the UK’s five-point plan for the G7 and the COP26 meeting later this year offer the opportunity for bold action on climate which could drastically reduce the chances of pandemics occurring in the first place. But we know outbreaks will happen, and more frequently. So the WHO must be strengthened and fit-for-purpose, with reliable funding, enhanced authority to conduct early and independent outbreak investigations, and the ability to hold member states accountable for compliance with the International Health Regulations (IHRs). To help “pandemic-proof” the future, the world also needs a new international preparedness framework or pandemic treaty and a state-of-the-art, global virus surveillance and detection system to better predict and manage cross-border threats.

A year into this crisis, we are all experiencing pandemic fatigue. The rollout of new vaccines is providing hope that the end may be near, and we can get on with our lives. Yet the reality today is that for the vast majority of the world’s population, that hope remains elusive. Everyone will remain at risk until there is universal access to the vaccines and the virus is contained everywhere. Unless we speed up the global response, we could be marking the second anniversary of this pandemic next year. Furthermore, the next pandemic could be around the corner, and could be even more lethal and costlier than this one.

But it doesn’t have to be this way: we can pandemic-proof the future if world leaders heed our wish and take action now in these four areas. The world can’t afford to wait.