The COVID-19 pandemic has raised questions about the global community’s preparedness for future pandemics, as well as how pandemics may be prevented. The first COVID-19 case was identified in December of 2019. In January of 2020, researchers mapped the virus’s DNA sequence and made that data publicly available. The COVID-19 vaccine was developed much more quickly than other vaccines because it built upon pre-existing science and research. COVID-19 is part of a trend of increasing outbreaks of infectious disease which has been driven by factors including globalization, urbanization, and climate change.
Disease surveillance is essential for responding to epidemics and pandemics; public-health decision makers need accurate and timely information to assess an outbreak (or potential outbreak) and begin appropriate countermeasures. Establishing systems for collaboratively sharing health information across borders is an area of ongoing work. In addition, inequalities in access to healthcare continues to be a problem; half of the world’s population lack access to essential health services. Responding to disease outbreaks can require a wide variety of resources from laboratories to study disease, medical staff to test for and treat disease, as well as personal protective equipment, medications, and vaccines. Vaccine equity is the principle that every should have access to vaccines and that vaccine distribution should be based on need rather than economic status. In the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, the vaccine was distributed more widely and quickly in high-income nations while many low-income nations lacked access. Efforts to address this have included the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) initiative.
In December 2021 the World Health Organization decided to convene an intergovernmental negotiating body to draft a new international accord or convention on the topic of pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response. Adding shared principles to international law in this way is one tool within a broad range of strategies to address this issue. One model for pandemic preparedness is the 100 Days Mission, which sets the goal that within 100 days after the identification of a pandemic threat, vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostic tests should be available, safe, effective, and affordable. Another strategy is to identify and research “prototype pathogens,” i.e., viruses and viral families which pose a significant threat. In addition, since a majority of viruses have an animal origin, interventions addressing the context and frequency of contact between humans and animals may reduce the chance of new diseases emerging; this perspective is part of the “one health” approach. Given the international nature of pandemics, it is the task of the World Health Organization to determine the most effective and equitable methods prevent pandemics and increase preparedness for pandemics.