The last pandemic

“This will not be the last pandemic, nor the last global health emergency,” declared WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a September 2020 report. A World in Disorder estimated that the world’s governments had already spent $11 trillion (of often borrowed money) in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has so far resulted in 115 million diagnosed cases and 2.6 million deaths.

But take heart: There are good reasons to believe that the WHO director-general is wrong. The greatly speeded-up biomedical innovation provoked by the current global scourge has provided future generations with tools to keep subsequent viral invasions at bay. These include fast new vaccine production platforms, the development of better diagnostic and disease surveillance monitoring, and progress in the rapid design of therapeutics.

Calibrating the role of governments in staving off future threats remains a challenge. But the horrors of the last year have spurred humanity to quickly develop an unprecedentedly flexible and powerful toolkit that may well make COVID-19 the last true pandemic.