NPR’s Michel Martin speaks with journalist Ed Yong about his piece in The Atlantic titled, “We’re Already Barreling Towards the Subsequent Pandemic.”


The USA has now reached and surpassed a milestone that after appeared laborious to think about, 700,000 deaths from COVID-19. And whereas the summer time surge of recent circumstances fueled by the delta variant seems to be slowing, the mounting toll reminds us that this pandemic is way from over. But those that watch this subject carefully say our focus ought to already be on getting ready for the subsequent one. Science reporter Ed Yong wrote about this for The Atlantic this week. His piece is titled “We’re Already Barreling Towards The Subsequent Pandemic.” And Ed Yong is with us now. Welcome. Thanks a lot for becoming a member of us.

ED YONG: Hello. Thanks for having me once more.

MARTIN: Initially, I simply must ask the essential query. Like, what is the argument for looking forward to the subsequent pandemic when within the U.S. proper now, , we’re having fights over whether or not children ought to put on masks in faculties? I imply, should not we work out the right way to finish this one first?

YONG: I perceive that. However sadly, the reply is not any. And that is for 2 causes. The primary is that whereas we’d love to consider this as a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, I guarantee you it is not. Extra infectious ailments, extra new ones are incoming. They may occur at any time. And we’d not have the luxurious of solely dealing with down one each decade and even one after the other. However the greater and extra essential reply, I believe, is that historical past has proven us that each main epidemic creates a wave of curiosity and a spotlight that’s quickly adopted by a part of neglect. Specialists have talked about this panic-neglect cycle for years, for so long as I’ve been reporting on this subject. And it implies that if we wait till COVID is not any extra to consider the subsequent pandemic, we’ll already be properly into the purpose the place the window for getting ready for the subsequent one has closed.

MARTIN: , the Biden administration has launched a pandemic preparedness plan to do precisely what you mentioned, to handle future well being crises. It has a price ticket of $65 billion. In your article, you say that public well being consultants do not assume that is sufficient. Why is that?

YONG: Just because all of the estimates we have heard about how a lot it will take to truly get pandemic preparedness are considerably larger. The larger problem, I believe, isn’t just in regards to the amount of cash but additionally whether or not it’s sustainable as a result of what COVID teaches us is you could have all of the biomedical, shiny instruments that you really want. However in the event you deploy that onto a society with gross inequities, with a public well being system that’s weak and has been allowed to rot for a century and a well being care system that tens of millions of individuals nonetheless cannot entry, then they lose quite a lot of that energy. We can not merely count on these panaceas – vaccines and medicines – to get us out of pandemics that are essentially a societal downside. They want huge societal fixes to handle.

MARTIN: , you make this level very strongly in your piece. You say, inequity discount isn’t a facet quest of pandemic preparedness. It’s arguably the central pillar, if not for ethical causes, then for fundamental epidemiological ones, that infectious ailments can unfold from the weak to the privileged. May you simply discuss a bit extra about this connection between social equality and pandemics? As a result of the opposite level you make in your piece is that folks used to make that argument…

YONG: Sure.

MARTIN: …Proper? – that…

YONG: Sure.

MARTIN: …That was an argument that earlier in our historical past was generally made however ceases to be so now. So discuss somewhat bit extra about why it is essential, and discuss somewhat bit extra about why we do not discuss it anymore.

YONG: So we – wherever the virus goes, we see that its burden dramatically falls upon individuals who have much less privilege by way of race, by way of class and different axes. And there is a tendency, I believe, to type of consider this as like as a yeah, however, as a sidebar to the primary problem of the pandemic. It’s, in truth, the central problem.

There was a degree once we truly acknowledged this to be true. Within the nineteenth century, quite a lot of students in each Europe and the U.S. acknowledged that epidemics have been essentially influenced by elements like poor sanitation or overcrowding. However as soon as we began understanding that ailments have been the work of microbes, as soon as germ concept grew to become ascendant, folks misplaced to that social focus. Like, germ concept gave everybody a villain, a goal. You would take into consideration ailments totally by way of a affected person versus a pathogen. And that is nonetheless how we consider them. That is very alluring. But it surely misses out the complete context through which that battle between individual and virus takes place. And with out that context, we’re lacking a very essential a part of what preparedness truly means.

MARTIN: So even taking into consideration the whole lot that you have mentioned about the way in which that is all associated – it is associated to working situations, it is associated to residing situations, it is associated to sickly, meals, all these items – is there one thing that within the public well being sector that must be checked out now to higher place the nation for the long run?

YONG: For those who have a look at well being care spending within the U.S., public well being acquired, I consider, simply over three cents per medical greenback again within the Thirties. You skip ahead virtually a century, and now it will get simply over two cents. So it is nonetheless very a lot been relegated to secondary standing compared to drugs. And by public well being, I am speaking about issues that stop ailments in communities. I am speaking about individuals who have to supply companies like, properly, vaccinations, sanitation. They give the impression of being after, like, housing situations. They consider tobacco management and the opioid epidemic. They usually must do all of these items on ridiculously small budgets. And except we truly get investments to repair that, it simply will proceed that means. And all the time, at any time when investments are made, they’re all the time eroded. What we want now could be a secure supply of public well being funding that’s, , resistant to the sorts of appropriation cycles that Congress has to undergo yearly. Folks want cash. They usually want a regulation, proper? Folks have estimated that it’s going to take about $4 1/2 billion yearly simply to get the system as much as scratch, not to mention to, like, make it nice.

MARTIN: That’s Ed Yong. We’re speaking about his piece for The Atlantic titled “We Are Already Barreling Towards the Subsequent Pandemic.” Ed Yong, thanks a lot for sharing your reporting and your insights with us at this time.

YONG: Thanks for having me.

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