Letter: Pandemic teaches social, not just technical, lessons

Your editorial “Covid lessons for the next pandemic” (FT View, March 12) overlooks important aspects of the lessons it claims to highlight.

First, preventing emergence. Here, the editorial overstates the importance of wildlife trading in the spread of disease, and underplays the complex relationship between human politics and ecological dynamics that actually underpin viral emergence.

The second lesson, surveillance, focuses on the use of surveillance to prevent “a dangerous pathogen spreading far beyond its place of origin” which plays into this insidious idea that the focus of a health system is to keep pathogens where they come from.

However, testing does nothing without other measures, including changes to behaviour following a positive test, isolation, support for those isolating, contact tracing and a whole host of other measures that feed into the way that surveillance breaks the chains of transmission.

Third is the 100 days mission of getting vaccines and therapeutics faster. We had multiple Covid-19 vaccines in less than a year, which was an incredible achievement.

However, even if we were able to get a vaccine in less than 100 days, that’s a long time to wait, and equitable vaccine distribution is not guaranteed.

A common theme of all these lessons is that they are simplistic, focused on linear causation and mostly require technological solutions. Each lesson overlooks complex social and political interactions.

We should be looking to the social components of these systems, not just the technical.

At its core, this editorial is not just overlooking important aspects of the pandemic but the points that it does make actively harm our understanding of the social interventions that underpin whether these lessons work at all.

Joshua R Moon
Research Fellow
Science Policy Research Unit
University of Sussex, Brighton, UK


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