The following report first aired in December 2021.
As America attempts to pull out of its Covid nightmare, public health experts are already embarking upon Lessons Learned exercises. Lawrence Gostin is professor at Georgetown University and director of the World Health Organization Center on Global Health Law. In his new book, Global Health Security, he sets forth a blueprint for the post-Covid future.
Lawrence Gostin: Basically its thesis is that we have a constant vicious cycle where we bounce between complacency and panic. So every time we have an outbreak, whether it's Ebola or polio or Zika, we panic and we throw all of our resources at it. Then when it goes away, we forget about it. And we disinvest in our public health infrastructure, and in our health system in research and development, and then it just comes roaring back. And so the question is, have we learned the lesson of COVID? So, not since 1918 with the great influenza pandemic have we experienced anything like this in our lifetimes. Will we learn the lesson? Will we actually trust in science and regain our trust in public health agencies?
Sharyl: A lot of the issues you talk about, seem to me, related in part to implementation, because taxpayers, if you've been around long enough as I have, billions and billions of dollars have gone toward ongoing preparedness, so that when an emergency happens, we're not running around with our hair on fire, as we seem to do. How do you solve that problem?
Gostin: We just had a solemn understanding of the 20th anniversary of 9/11, but from a public health point of view, there's a much more important anniversary, which is October 5th, which is the first diagnosed case of anthrax, and anthrax attack in the United States. We invested a lot in public health then, but then we hollowed it out, we disinvested. We did the same thing when influenza H1N1 came, and then we disinvested. And it turns out, that we didn't invest in our public health systems the way we thought we had, and that we actually hollowed them out. So, we have a lot of catching up to do.
Sharyl: In 10 years from now, if you were to look back at the period between COVID and what happened since, what would you like to see?
Gostin : I would like to see us really invest in public health and safety.
Sharyl: Just putting more money into —
Gostin: I would put more money into it, more training into it, more awareness into it. I would have our public health communication in ways that are so much better than we've seen now, with all of the chaos that we've seen from the CDC and the World Health Organization and state and local health departments. And politicizing science in ways that I could never have dreamed of in all of my life. We want to trust in our scientists. We need the medicines and the vaccines that help us stay safe and secure. And we want to be a healthy, robust society where our kids go to school and we go to work and we're happy and prosperous. That can never happen, unless we actually protect ourselves against Mother Nature. Because what we found out, is that when Mother Nature gets serious, she's a formidable force. We’ve seen it with climate and now we've seen it with pathogens.
Sharyl (on-camera): Gostin says the World Health Organization’s biggest flaw during Covid-19 might have been its failure or inability to independently verify China’s reporting about the virus.